Peer pressure might not be the bad influence that parents fear it is.
So says a new study that found teens with close friends were more likely to be healthy later as young adults.
“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,” wrote study co-author Joseph Allen, a researcher at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
“In this study, it was a robust predictor of increased long-term physical health quality,” he wrote.
However, the study did not prove that having close friends in adolescence caused a person to be healthier as an adult.
The researchers followed 171 people who were in the seventh and eighth grades at the start. The quality of their friendships and their efforts to fit in with peers were evaluated between ages 13 and 17, while their physical health was assessed later at ages 25, 26 and 27.
Both high-quality friendships and a desire to fit in with peers during the teen years were associated with better health at age 27, even after the researchers accounted for other factors such as income, weight and drug use.
The findings suggest that the quality of teens’ relationships with other teens may influence their health in adulthood by affecting anxiety and stress levels, according to the authors of the study published recently in the journal Psychological Science.
Many teens put a lot of effort into forming and maintaining friendships and fitting in with peers, and this may be due to an instinctive recognition that these social links are associated with well-being, the researchers suggested.
“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,” they wrote.
“Cross-cultural research has found that an approach to social interactions that emphasizes 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,” the researchers noted.
They said the findings suggest that the quality of teens’ social relationships, in addition to issues such as obesity and smoking, might be included in efforts to improve long-term health.