Friendships in Middle SchoolBy Jennifer Hahn
Children with friends in middle school appear to do better than children without a reciprocated friendship (i.e., where the friendship goes both ways and is not just one-sided). A longitudinal study of 242 middle school students evaluated the relationship between friendship and social and academic measures.
Students were evaluated in sixth grade as well as in eighth grade. Teachers also completed questionnaires regarding students’ and their friends’ classroom behavior. To determine reciprocated friendships, students were asked to list up to three of their best friends. A reciprocated friendship was found if two students identified each other.
Most of the students (72%) had a reciprocated friendship in sixth grade. Of those students who did not, they were more likely to report higher levels of emotional distress and sadness and lower levels of self-worth. Their academic performance also was somewhat lower initially, but improved by eighth grade although they continued to report higher levels of emotional distress. The students who had reciprocated friendships were rated as more helpful, cooperative and willing to share with others as compared to students without friends.
The study also found evidence that prosocial friends can motivate students to behave in more prosocial ways (e.g., becoming more cooperative). Specifically, having a prosocial friend in sixth grade predicted more prosocial behavior in eighth grade. It appears that the prosocial friend may motivate a student to adopt goals to behave in more positive ways.
Finally, however, it does not appear that friends have an influence on academic achievement. Even though friends tend to perform similarly academically, they do not appear to affect each other’s academic motivation or performance.
Source: Wentzel, K. R., Barry, C. M., & Caldwell, K. A., June 2004, Friendships in middle school: Influences on motivation and school adjustment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 195-203.
© Jennifer Hahn
NFO contributor Dr. Jennifer Hahn is the editor of The Thinking Parent, a quarterly publication reviewing research of interest to parents: child development and parenting, pregnancy and childbirth, physical health, mental health and education. With more than 12 years of experience in research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr. Hahn received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and completed her residency at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center. She is the mother of two daughters.