A fascinating new study published in Psychological Science says that the friendships that we have in our adolescence might play a very big role in our health much later on in life.
The study suggested that remaining a part of the pack, as it were, made for much stronger health in later years.
“These results indicate that remaining close to – as opposed to separating oneself – from the peer pack in adolescence has long-term implications for adult physical health,” said lead researcher Joseph Allen, a psychological scientist at the University of Virginia. “In this study, it was a robust predictor of increased long-term physical health quality.”
How The Study Worked
Using a data set of 171 13-year-olds and tracking certain variables till they were 27-years-old, the study asked the respondents to fill out certain questionnaires about the quality of their relationships with their friends, using metrics like trust and ability to communicate with them.
The respondents were made to go through annual check-ups between the ages of 25 and 27. These checkups also evaluated not only their BMIs but also their mental and emotional states.
What Did They Find?
The study found that those with relationships with their group of friends that were of a higher quality were found to be healthier, both physically and mentally.
“Peer relationships provide some of the most emotionally intense experiences in adolescents’ lives, and conformity to peer norms often occurs even when it brings significant costs to the individual,” the researchers explained.
“Cross-cultural research has found that an approach to social interactions that emphasises placing the desires of one’s peers ahead of one’s own goals – much as adolescents do when they conform to peer norms – is linked to reduced life stress.”
Trying to “fit in”, a bane trashed in so many self-helf books, actually might not be as bad as it sounds.
As opposed to our hunter-gatherer past, the study’s author writes, there is a dividend of autonomy and breaking away from the past since clear-and-present physical dangers are not as prevalent now as they were back then. But, as the study shows, there still is a premium placed on sticking together as a pack.
So if your kid is spending some time with his or her peers in high-school, sometimes at the expense of personal priorities, it might not be as bad a deal as you might think it is. And that is not even mentioning the training in people skills that they might develop as a result, an ability that has proved to be crucial in the job market.
Though it is too early to base much on, friendships and relationships in adolescence are now going to be looked at closely in order to assess long-term health conditions.