The Potential Downside to Children’s Close Friendships

Children and adolescents often adopt the beliefs and behaviors of those they are closest to. Young people who socialize with aggressive and disruptive children may find themselves acting out in the same way. Likewise, adolescents who become friends with individuals who engage in risky behavior, such as substance use or sexual promiscuity, may also participate in such activities. There has been a wide range of research on the influence of peer association in adolescence. Much of that research is devoted to the effects of depressive behavior, but little attention has been given to the effects of depressive behavior among younger children. Additionally, few studies have looked at the contagious aspect of anxiety among younger and adolescent children.

To address these gaps, Rebecca A. Schwartz-Mette of the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri recently led a study that looked specifically at two separate groups of young people. Participants included one group of children in grades 3 to 5, and another from grades 7 to 9. The sample consisted of a total of 274 friend pairs and was examined for levels of anxiety and depression contagion over a period of six months. Schwartz-Mette found that, in line with other studies, depression appeared as a contagion among all the genders and age groups. However, although anxiety exhibited contagion properties in all the females, it manifested in the boys only from the older participant group.

When Schwartz-Mette looked further, she was able to identify a factor that contributed significantly to the depression contagion effect. She discovered that co-rumination, or disclosure and lengthy discussions of depressive feelings, had a major role in the peer effect of depression. She believes that when children are exposed to rumination among friends over time, they may become more vulnerable to internalizing stressful feelings themselves. “These findings highlight a previously unstudied risk factor for the development of internalizing symptoms in childhood,” Schwartz-Mette said. “Most important, a mechanism that helped to account for depression and anxiety contagion was identified.”

Schwartz-Mette, Rebecca A., and Amanda J. Rose. Co-rumination mediates contagion of internalizing symptoms within youths’ friendships. Developmental Psychology 48.5 (2012): 1355-365. Print.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Freida


    September 26th, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    I swear sometimes you find things at just the right time!
    My daughter has been hanging out with another girl since the beginning of the school year, and while my child has never had any behavioral issues, this child always has and now it seems to be rubbing off on mine!
    My husband told me I was crazy, that I can’t blame the new issues on this one kid, but it’s like I can almost pinpoint to the day when all of ours started and suspiciously that all conincides with the approximate time that she made this new BFF.
    I don’t want her to feel like I am punishing her but I really think that this other chold is a very bad influence on her. Can I just tell her they can’t hang out anymore or do I let it run its course? I am afraid that if I do that then we will have even more problems at school!

  • haley


    September 26th, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    worrying about children and the company they are in never ceases,does it?while the things to watch out may change the usual worrying does not and it calls for monitoring from us as parents.

    also,surprised to read that discussion of depression actually affects the listener negatively.always thought it would either have positive or no effect,after all it is a part of helping your friend.

  • Dane O

    Dane O

    September 26th, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    I would love to know if this was more prevalent in girls or boys, or if there was any difference in the numbers at all- thanks

  • Harry


    September 26th, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Friends can be a source of strength and can even be agents of destruction.I have had friends that have affected me negatively in my teen years.It is further dangerous for these young lads cause they are not too matured.

  • kenton


    September 26th, 2012 at 11:50 PM

    kids this young do not have a solid emotional base and any issue that a close friend might report to them can have a major impact on it is important to encourage your child to share things with you and hence you will be in a position to talk to them about it and prevent the negativity that comes from listening to others’ negative experiences and life episodes.

  • bree f

    bree f

    September 27th, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    such a catch 22 with this one
    you want your kids to have friends they are close with
    but at the same time you want them to have more than one person that they feel like they can rely on
    this is probably something that you see more of when kids have just one exclusive and close friend
    sometimes you see that kids like this cling to one another just to avoid being alone
    so they begin to become so much like one another
    and experience the same things
    that it could become a problem especially if one of them is going through some thing pretty serious and the other begins to imitate and exhibit that same behavior

  • Elyse


    September 27th, 2012 at 5:28 AM

    Children have done crazy things in the past just because they were influenced by a friend.They do not understand things too well and a friend’s influence can further push them into believing something that’s not right.That could then take over their mind and they could end up being depressed if their friend is.Such things are not uncommon and parents need to watch out.

  • Jen W

    Jen W

    September 27th, 2012 at 3:12 PM

    @ Dane O

    “However, although anxiety exhibited contagion properties in all the females, it manifested in the boys only from the older participant group.”

    Looks like the girls got a more sustained effect than the boys. Interesting.

  • Georgia


    September 27th, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Know why this really scares me? Aren’t more and more kids these days making these suicide pacts and promising that one will do it if the other does too? That’s frightening if that really is the mind set that many of our young people have and they are following through with it. We have to keep our guard up- I know that there are those readers who will accuse me of hovering and being that mom who is always flitting about worrying about my kids- then so be it! If it means that I am saving my children from something terrible happening to them, then I am more than willing to be that helicopter mom.

  • donovan


    September 27th, 2012 at 9:36 PM

    a lot of mention of depression among younger children. it wasn’t too prevalent before but cases of younger children being depressed seem to be in the rise and that is definitely not a good thing.

  • Ellie D

    Ellie D

    September 28th, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    What’s worse? Kids having good friends whom they copy, or having no friends at all? As a parent I know which I will take- give me the copycats.

  • logan


    September 28th, 2012 at 5:36 AM

    well good parenting involves talking to your children and encouraging them to talk about things on their mind.things including something like this.if you have got your child to remain open to you then chances are he or she will tell you this too.I can clearly see how this little bit of effort from a parent can help and guide the child to a great extent.

  • Gordo


    September 28th, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    Good grief, maybe the time has come to give our kids a little peace and understanding!
    we go so crazy these days over every little thing, and for what/ To drive ourselves crazy and drive our kids to madness?
    It is only natural, yes, only natural for kids to follow the lead of others. They are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into this crowd or another. What is wrong with that? Just because they hang with a certain group does not mean that they will start following every little thing that they do.
    They will want to fit in, but if you give them a good starting point at home, they will remember what is right and what is wrong.
    Have a little faith in them. . . and in yourself.

  • Sofia


    September 29th, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Wow, this is a pretty tough scenario that I think a lot of parents find themselves in at some point.

    This is overly true once the children reach that age where they do not want to have as much to do with their parents and really rely so much on their friends for guidance.

    You just have to know who they are around and intervene immediately if you sense that somethign is off. I would not care if the child got mad or not, you have to do anything that you can to keep them safe.

  • Richard


    September 30th, 2012 at 5:10 AM

    Not sure that I am reading this quite right. Are you saying that in the group of older kids this only appeared to be more of a problem for the boys? Funny that I would have naturally assumed that this would be more of an issue with girls, as they seem far more likely (not being critical, just going by what I have seen at times) to follow others with whom they have close relationships. Boys have always been so much more immature at this age, that they are only concerned with the fun stuff in life, not necessarily impressing the friends. That’s what a lot of this seems to be about.

  • bay


    October 1st, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    the biggest problem i have ever had when my kids had close friends was not wanting to have to hang around their parents!

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