Study sheds light on link between social habits in childhood and mental health in adulthood

A new study claims to have discovered a positive link between developing close, lasting friendships in childhood and enjoying good mental health in adult life.

Research carried out by the University of Virginia, USA, selected 169 subjects all aged 15, and followed up each individual until they were 25 in order to determine whether so-called popularity, or “peer-affiliation preference,” in childhood had an impact on social anxiety in later life.

Interestingly, it found that those teenagers who had been more ‘popular’ in their secondary school years and had a lot of friends were actually more likely to experience social anxiety in their early 20s, while those who had favoured developing close and lasting friendships with fewer people in adolescence exhibited fewer symptoms of anxiety in later life.

Researchers have put forward a number of suggestions as to why this is the case.

Authors of the study have said that close or more intimate relationships in childhood provide individuals with positive experiences, which both reinforce self-esteem and reassure teenagers during the difficult time of growing up.

Others added that such close relationships may be bestowing young teens with beneficial lifelong skills, such as the ability to develop and maintain secure and trusting relationships with other people, while those more interested in ‘gaining popularity’ as opposed to enrichening existing relationships could be missing out on these important skills, and could struggle to feel accepted or understood today.