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Study Finds Middle School Relationships Influence Adult Ones

Update Date: Apr 03, 2013 10:25 AM EDT

Middle school, which is often filled with confusion and new emotions, might just be a transitioning time in most people's lives. The years in junior high appear to be superfluous for those who want to quickly enter high school and get away for college. However, according to a new study, the types of relationships that one makes in middle school might actually influence the person's social skills and relationships in adult life. The study found that early teenagers who were better able to develop good relationships in middle school were more likely to be viewed as having a better social and professional life in the future by others. However, having a better social life in middle school does not come with some consequences, as these teenagers have to constantly deal with peer influences.

"We tend to think that peer relationships in early adolescence don't mean that much, but that tends to be dead wrong," says Joseph Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. "How well you do with peers as an early teen tells us a whole lot about how you manage in a lot of different ways as an adult."

The researchers looked at the behaviors of 184 students from a public middle school located in the Southeast for three years starting at the age of 13. The sample group was composed of children who were from urban and suburban areas. The researchers interviewed the children's parents and close friends who were not a part of the study to determine how these groups view the particular child. The researchers then followed up on the participants when they reached 20 to 23-years-old.

The study found several interesting factors that influence a child's success in the future. They found that students who reacted the best against peer pressure had a lower percentage of engaging in criminal behavior, as well as drugs and alcohol. Despite these better lifestyle choices, the researchers found that these teenagers had a more difficult time in developing friendships which translated to weaker and fewer relationships in adulthood.

The researchers found that teenagers who were open to peer pressure, but were not overwhelmed by it were the most successful in developing social skills that lasted into adulthood. The research team noted that these teenagers might have tried drugs and alcohol, but appear to be better at doing them moderately. However, the risk for addiction and continued use is higher in this group than the group that chose to abstain.

"Teens who can manage that well have strong close friendships as adults," says Allen. "They're better at negotiating disagreements with romantic partners when we observed them doing that. They are less likely to have problems with alcohol and substance use and less likely to engage in criminal behavior."

The findings provide insight into the role of peer pressure and alcohol and drugs. A balance of a good social life and the absence of drugs and alcohol might be the best combination, but it is also almost an impossible feat for most young teenagers.

The study was published in Child Development

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