*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert!
Teens’ ability to empathize — to understand others’ perspectives and emotions, and to care for their wellbeing — is an important contributor to their relationships, including with friends. Prior research shows that teens who have more secure family relationships report higher levels of empathy for others.
Now, a new study has tested whether teens’ secure, supportive family relationships at age 14 related to their ability to provide their friends with empathic support across adolescence and into early adulthood. Findings indicate that secure attachment (reflecting on close relationships in an emotionally balanced, coherent, and valuing way) predicts teens’ ability to provide empathic support to their close friends. Close friends were also more likely to seek support from teens who had secure family relationships in early adolescence. While having secure family relationships at age 14 predicted greater empathy with peers across adolescence, those teens who did not have secure family relationships in early adolescence showed a pattern of catching up, increasing their empathy towards close friends as they developed.
The study featured a sample of 184 adolescents (86 males, 98 females) recruited from a public middle school (seventh and eighth grades) in suburban and urban populations from the Southeastern United States.
The findings were published in a Child Development article, written by researchers at the University of Virginia and led by Joseph P. Allen, Hugh P. Kelly professor of psychology.
“Our findings showed that teens who were more secure in their family relationships at age 14 provided greater empathic support to their friends at ages 16, 17, and 18, and they were consistently able to provide that support over time,” said Jessica Stern, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia. “Teens who were less secure in their family relationships at age 14 showed lower empathic support for friends in early adolescence, but their empathic abilities grew over time. What’s especially interesting is that close friends also sought out more support from securely attached teens.”