Adolescent Research: Friends Are Friends Forever? Not Likely

Adolescents don’t like to lose their friends. But a new longitudinal study of teenagers published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that the notion of having a BFF runs counter to reality. In the study, researchers found that just 1 in 100 friendships that begin in seventh grade continue on until the 12th grade.

The researchers discovered that the strongest predictors of friendship dissolution were differences in sex, differences in the degree to which children were liked by other children, differences in physical aggression, and differences in school competence.

What keeps friendships together? Apparently the old adage of “birds of a feather flock together” applies. Similarities between friends create harmony, lend themselves to cooperative activities, and builds an environment of shared pleasures, costs, and benefits. One caveat: undesirable attributes and behaviors, when displayed in similar levels between friends, also serve to keep relationships together.

What Can Parents Do?
• Understand that most kids will form new friendships and end old friendships during adolescence. It’s completely normal. There is a bit of a “revolving door” aspect to friendships in adolescence, particularly in early and middle adolescence as kids experiment with their identities and then begin to figure out their preferences. Eventually, they will begin to gravitate to similar peers for their key friendships.

• Support and comfort your teen when a previously valued friendship ends.

• Understand that you cannot choose your child’s friends, but you can encourage healthy friendships.

• Get to know your teen’s friends. Strive to make your home a safe and welcome place for your teens and their friends to hang out. In the process of getting to know your teen’s friends, you will learn a lot about your own daughter or son, as well.

• If you find that your teenager has built a friendship based on similar undesirable attributes or behaviors, encourage him or her to evaluate and make major decisions about their friendships.

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Jim Liebelt

Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has over 35 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on and Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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