Having Just One Good Friend Strengthens Kids’ Resilience

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Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStoc/Getty Images

Let’s take a moment to praise the wonders of the true-blue best friendship, an especially powerful thing during the teenage years. A new study, published earlier this summer in the British Journal of Psychology, looked at this idea specifically among kids from low-income neighborhoods, and found that kids with just one solid, supportive friendship also tended to show signs of greater resilience when facing adversity than the kids with lower-quality friendships.

Rebecca Graber, a psychologist at the University of Sussex, led the research, for which she recruited more than 400 adolescents, ages 11 to 19, from three schools in poor neighborhoods within Yorkshire, England. Graber and her co-authors — Rhiannon Turner of Queen’s University and Anna Madill of the University of Leeds — had the kids take a series of tests measuring their resilience and ability to cope with hardships (rating, for instance, how much they agreed with statements like “I usually manage one way or another” or “I can usually find something to laugh about”).

But the researchers also asked them about their friendships — in particular, they were to think about their closest friend, and to answer questions about the level of trustworthiness and support that existed in that relationship. In their analysis, the researchers found an association between higher-quality friendships and greater resilience, likely, they theorize, because of the emotional support and the sounding board a real best friend provides. (Although, it’s also entirely possible that the kids with personalities that tend to attract good friendships are also naturally more resilient in the face of adversity.)

She’s not a low-income teenager (at all), but the 19-year-old writer, actor, and Rookie editor Tavi Gevinson appeared on a recent episode of the “Dear Sugar” podcast, hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, and her comments about her own high-school best-friendship echo the study’s implication about how important having just one close friend can be for kids. "[I]f we didn’t have each other, we would’ve felt so totally alone,” Gevinson said on the show. “So I think, in a way, you don’t need a huge social group of friends, but if you can find, your one or couple safe people — that’s a lot more valuable to me.”