A new study has suggested that kids with no friends can become social outcasts who risk spiraling into depression by adolescence.
The study by researchers at Concordia University, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Vermont also suggested that for most shy and withdrawn children, friends could be a form of protection against sadness.
“The long-term effects of being a withdrawn child are enduringly negative. Over time, we found that withdrawn kids showed increasing levels of sadness and higher levels of depressive feelings,” said lead author William M. Bukowski, a psychologist at the Concordia Centre for Research in Human Development.
A total of 130 girls and 101 boys in the third through fifth school grades, took part in the three-year study. Participants were asked to rate whether they felt shy or preferred solitude.
Compared with friendless children, those who had friends were less likely to report depressed feelings.
“Friendship disrupts the negative and long-term effects of withdrawal. Friendship promotes resilience and protects at-risk kids from internalizing problems such as feeling depressed and anxious,” said Bukowski.
He added that, “Being isolated and excluded from the peer group can increase levels of depressed feelings in children and those negative feelings can escalate throughout adolescence.
The key to avoid peer rejection is to make at least one friend.
“Having one friend can be protective for withdrawn or shy kids. Our study confirms the value of having friends, which are like a shield against negative social experiences,” the psychologist concluded.
The study is appears in the journal Development and Psychopathology.