Is Having Friends Important to Your Well Being?

February 26, 2021 by Kristy

A few years ago my daughter, Gwen, who was in 4th grade went through a very difficult year.  Her best friend moved away.  They had been in the same class every year.  Gwen loved this girl dearly (as did I).  When you think of who you want your kids to hang out with, this girls’ picture was in the dictionary under best – best friend ever.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, my daughters other good friend moved away a few months later.  Gwen was friendless and lost.  It was also during this time that we had a realization that Gwen wasn’t really reading at a level she should be.  She really had an internal struggle, and as her Mother, there was not a dang thing I could do to help her develop friendships.  We immediately enrolled her in the KUMON program to help her with bringing up her reading level.

I should probably explain that Gwen has always been nice and sweet to everyone.  Boys have always been attracted to her sweetness and have wanted to be around her and have been her friends.  But as a female, I realize that there is a difference between male friends and female friends.  There were other girls in her grade but they were not HER type of people.  Gwen’s issues with girlfriends and with reading persisted through all of 4th grade.  She had the hardest teacher, EVER.  Let me just preface that by saying that one of my friends from High School had this teacher when she was in Elementary school.  I was 27 years old when I gave birth to Gwen.  So this teacher, was old school to the core.  She had been teaching for at least 34 years.   She didn’t take crap and she expected so much from these little 9 and 10 year olds.  I remember Gwen coming home from school one day and telling me that they got new seat assignments.  One of the kids in the class wasn’t happy about his new seat and the teacher told him, “Do you think when you grow up and get a job you are going to like all of your coworkers?  It is my job as your teacher to make sure you can learn to work with everyone, now go sit down!”  I actually gained quite a bit of respect for this teacher that day, but it didn’t change anything as far as my daughter struggling with not having girlfriends or her struggling with the piles of homework this teacher expected her to complete daily.

The year proceeded and at times I wanted to do anything to help her.  I could see the pain that she was enduring not keeping up with the school work like the other kids in the class (and hours she would spend crying).  The teacher would have her stay in through recesses to attempt to get her caught up.  Which was a good thing for the work but it didn’t help her to grow friendships with girls.  I think Gwen felt like she couldn’t do anything right and she didn’t have anyone to relate to.  It is one of the most difficult things to stand by helplessly and watch your child struggle.

According to Wikipedia 78% of 5th graders have at least one friend, and 55% had a mutual best friend.  About 15% of children were found to be chronically friendless, meaning they went at least six months without a friend. I was really concerned about what this meant for Gwen as we were approaching the 8th month.  I found an article that states, “Problematic peer relations may have adverse effects on the transition to school, with subsequent consequences for academic success.”  It went on to explain that having friends in early childhood appears to protect children against the development of psychological problems later in childhood.19  So if Gwen didn’t make friends soon, was it going to cause her to have psychological problems and was her reading issues related to not having friends?

It took me to a mindset of she just needs to make friends.  Then I found out, The University of Texas at Austin performed a study on over 9000 American adolescents.  The study examined the participants problematic behavior (stealing, fighting, and truancy) related to their friendships.  The study confirmed that the participants were less likely to engage in the bad behavior when their friends did well in school, participated in school activities, avoided drinking, and had good mental health, so basically they were good kids. The study also showed that if their friends engaged in the bad behavior the participants did as well.  As you can imagine- this worried me even more, I was afraid that Gwen would just be happy having any friend, even if that friend was not a good influence.  Honestly, that scared me even more than her not having any good girlfriends.

The 4th grade year ended, girl friendless.  Gwen spent the summer sulking around.  Then, fifth grade started.  There was a new girl that just moved in.  Gwen and the new girl, hit it off immediately.  Schoolwork magically became easier.  I approved of this wonderful new friend.  Gwen loves her, as do I.  Her photo is also in the dictionary under best – best friend ever.  The answer to the original question, Do I need friends?  Is YES, yes you do!

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