Peer pressure is a number one concern for teens and their parents, yet a new study indicates that close friendships during adolescence could have health benefits that last into early adulthood.
"These results indicate that remaining close to -- as opposed to separating oneself -- from the peer pack in adolescence has long-term implications for adult physical health," says co-author Joseph Allen of the University of Virginia. "In this study, it was a robust predictor of increased long-term physical health quality."
What's more, those who as teens made purposeful efforts to do as the others seem to be healthier in adulthood than those who did not, according to the study, which was published in the journal Psychological Science.
Teens' intense social lives and the seemingly boundless energy they invest in them could indicate an instinctive recognition that friendship and well-being go hand-in-hand, say the researchers.
Submitting to peer pressure can have serious consequences, yet, across different cultures, research suggests that aspiring to what's normal is linked to reduced life stress, according to the study.
Following a diverse group of 171 teens from the age of 13 to 27, the researchers questioned them in the early years, and started assessing their overall health annually once they turned 25.
Participants between the ages of 13 and 17 were asked to identify their best friend of the same gender and bring him or her into the study, whereupon these new additions filled out a questionnaire about the quality of their friendship.
They responded to questions about trust, communication, alienation and how much energy they invested into fitting in.
Participants aged 25 and over were assessed for depression and anxiety symptoms in addition to body mass index (BMI) as part of their overall health assessments that also accounted for diagnoses and hospitalizations.
Both high quality friendships and purposeful efforts to fit in with their peers as teenagers were associated with better health by the time participants reached the age of 27.
The research team adjusted data for socioeconomic status, body weight and drug use, all of which they had hypothesized could have twisted their results, yet they remained constant.
"From a risk and prevention perspective, difficulty forming close relationships early in adolescence may now be considered a marker of risk for long-term health difficulties," says Allen.
The researchers hypothesize that the need to fit in has evolved from the days of early man when people relied on their tribe for survival.