A new study shows that a single supportive close friendship can help young people from low-income backgrounds thrive in challenging circumstances.
Young people from low-income areas typically face substantial challenges to good physical health, mental health, academic achievement, and employment, noted Dr. Rebecca Graber, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England.
While previous research looked at larger friendship groups, the new study examined whether young people’s best friends could positively contribute to resilience, including self-reliance, a balanced perspective on life, and the ability to make meaning from difficult circumstances.
For the new study, Graber, working with Professor Rhiannon Turner from Queen’s University in Belfast and Professor Anna Madill from the University of Leeds, surveyed 409 students between the ages of 11 and 19 from three schools and two colleges in Yorkshire. The schools were in areas with poor socioeconomic status.
The students completed psychological assessments of the quality of their closest friendship, their resilience in the face of adverse experiences, and how they typically coped with problems.
The researchers found that both boys’ and girls’ best friendships facilitated effective ways of coping — such as planning, reframing an issue in a positive way, and using emotional support — that helped them develop resilience to complex challenges.
But the study’s findings also uncovered a significant gender difference. While girls’ best friendships had a slight tendency to promote risky and ineffective ways of coping with adversity, such as self-blame and substance use, boys’ best friendships did not.
“Research into promoting resilience in young people has concentrated on support from the family, but friendships are important too,” Graber said. “Boys’ and girls’ best friendships are an important source of meaning and strength in the face of substantial adversity.”
“There has also been almost a distrust of friendship between boys, with research concentrating on the negative side of belonging to a gang,” she continued. “But that isn’t the whole story. Our research suggests that boys’ best friendships may be intimate, trustworthy and supportive, even as they face social pressures towards a stoic or macho masculinity.”
The study was published in the British Journal of Psychology.
Source: British Psychological Society