Back in high school, were you one of the "popular" kids? A new study says adolescent popularity may negatively affect your mental health later in life.
Researchers at the University of Virginia in the United States carried out the recent study – the results of which were published in the “Child Development” journal – to uncover what effect teenage relationships have on adulthood over time.
A total of 169 racially and socioeconomically different people were assessed over a span of 10 years from the time they were 15 years old.
The scientists gauged each individual’s mental health with an annual survey on friendships, anxiety, social acceptance and depression symptoms. They determined the quality of popularity and friendship by speaking with their close friends and acquaintances.
According to the study, popularity was defined as the number of peers in the teen’s grade level who ranked them as someone they would hang out with. High-quality friendships were defined as close friendships that had a degree of attachment and intimate exchanges.
The researchers determined that those individuals who had close friendships and relationships when 15 had overall better mental health when 25. They reported experiencing less social anxiety, greater self-worth and fewer depression symptoms.
However, those in the popular crowd at high school reported higher levels of social anxiety when 25.
“Our study affirms that forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience,” said lead researcher Joseph Allen.
“Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships. And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later,” he said.
The scientists were quick to note that their study has a relatively small sample size and does not include as relevant the personal characteristics of each individual. Even so, they believe their research discloses crucial information about the impact of nurturing relationships.
“As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority,” Allen added.