Middle School is When the Right Friends May Matter Most
Jim LiebeltJim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Jim has over 25 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, and has been on the HomeWord staff since 1998. He has served over the years as a pastor, author, youth ministry trainer, adjunct college instructor and speaker. Jim’s culture blog and parenting articles appear on HomeWord.com. Jim is a contributing author of culture and parenting articles to Crosswalk.com. Jim and his wife Jenny live in Olympia, WA.
- 2011 Jan 13
A new study, appearing in the February issue of the Journal of Early Adolescence, found that boys and girls whose friends are socially active in ways where rules are respected do better in their classroom work. Having friends who engage in problem behavior, in contrast, is related to a decrease in their grades. Having pro-social friends and staying away from deviant peers proved more effective for academic payoffs than simply being friends with high-achieving peers.
The middle school/junior high years are a major transition for children, as students move away from grade-school classrooms led by one teacher every day into an environment of multiple classes with different teachers and opportunities to make new friends. This new study -- conducted by Marie-Helene Veronneau and Thomas J. Dishion of the UO Child and Family Center -- focused solely on the role played by friendship on academic achievement.
These transitional years may be pivotal, Dishion said. In a previous longitudinal study, he said, he and colleagues looked at the impacts of peer relationships of young people at ages 13, 15 and 17 to look for predictive indicators of life adjustments at age 24. Those influences at age 13 -- going back to middle school -- were the most influential, he noted. While instruction is school is vitally important, he said, it may be that more eyes should be looking at shifting peer relationships.
In their conclusions, Dishion and Veronneau suggested that responsible adults -- at school and at home -- "should pay special attention" to changes in friendships and encourage students to pursue and participate in adult-supervised activities to promote pro-social relationships.