Right friends matter most in middle school

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Washington, Jan 13 (ANI): University of Oregon researchers have suggested that it is the middle school years when friends have the maximum influence on a child.

The study has suggested as adolescents move from elementary school into their middle or junior-high years, changes in friendships may signal potential academic success or troubles down the road.

The researchers found that boys and girls whose friends are socially active in ways where rules are respected do better in their classroom work. Having friends who engage in problem behavior, in contrast, is related to a decrease in their grades.

Having pro-social friends and staying away from deviant peers proved more effective for academic payoffs than simply being friends with high-achieving peers.

The middle school/junior high years are a major transition for children, as students move away from grade-school classrooms led by one teacher every day into an environment of multiple classes with different teachers and opportunities to make new friends.

Marie-Helene Veronneau and Thomas J. Dishion of the UO Child and Family Center findings emerged from data collected in a longitudinal study of 1,278 students-55 percent of them girls-done previously by center researchers.

A surprise discovery was that girls who already were struggling academically in sixth grade actually suffered later when their chosen friends were already those making the highest grades, Veronneau said.

"We don't know the mechanisms on why it is this way for girls, but we can speculate that girls compare themselves to their friends and then decide they are not doing very well. Perhaps this affects their self-efficacy and belief in their own abilities."

For girls already doing well in sixth grade, however, there was an opposite influence. "It could be for these girls, having friends who also are getting good grades, school is challenging and stimulating, and they end up doing better than expected," she said.

In their conclusions, Dishion and Veronneau suggested that responsible adults-at school and at home-"should pay special attention" to changes in friendships and encourage students to pursue and participate in adult-supervised activities to promote pro-social relationships.

"Parents should pay attention to what their kids are doing and with whom they hang out. If parents notice that there is a shift in a child's friendship network, they should try to get to know those kids, talk with teachers and communicate naturally with their own child about where they are going and when they will be coming home," added Veronneau.

The findings were published in the Journal of Early Adolescence. (ANI)

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