Friends or Foes? It Depends on How Well You Pick ‘Em


 I remember well the old saw, “Don’t smoke, drink or chew, or go with girls who do.” It was burned into my brain as a kid.

It spoke to not only bad behavior, but to the idea that the people you hang out with have quite a bit of influence over what you think about bad behavior. And over whether you yourself participate in bad behavior.

Now here’s the modern equivalent. But it comes in the form of a study, so it’s not nearly so pithy. And it’s balanced by a generous nod to how valuable friends are in general, which is not something most of us adults of a certain age heard quite as much about in our formative years. It’s also not nearly as direct.

Recent research published in the journal Child Development reflects data from scholars’ efforts to keep tabs on 150 teens for 10 years beginning at age 13. As reported in, it was discovered that teens who had difficulty connecting with peers were more apt to have troubled relationships later on. But it was also established that many teens who bonded well with friends sometimes were more apt to struggle with drinking or substance abuse problems when they became young adults.

The key, researchers said, was to make friends—but also establish a level of autonomy from them. In other words, teens who didn’t go along with all their pals’ crazy ideas were better equipped to deal with adulthood.

“Overall, we found that teens face a high-wire act with their peers,” says Joseph P. Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “They need to establish strong, positive connections with them, while at the same time establishing independence in resisting deviant peer influences. Those who don’t manage this have significant problems as much as a decade later.”

That seems to be more about willpower than selectiveness. But the aforementioned “straighten up and fly right” adage is still bouncing around in my head, so I’ll add this thought to the mix: Wouldn’t you say it’s a whole lot easier to resist a pal’s crazy ideas when that pal doesn’t have quite so many crazy ideas?

Who wrote this?

Steven Isaac has served as editor for Plugged In’s NRB- and EPA-award-winning website for more than a decade, orchestrating, managing, scheduling, shaping and tweaking at least 750 reviews and articles annually. He’s a husband and a father of a teenager.

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Anna Salisbury More than 1 year ago

Yeah, it's definitely easier to not be influenced badly when you surround yourself with friends who are grounded. That doesn't mean my friends never have crazy ideas (that I go along with!:P) but if my friends understand and have similar values to mine, it's much easier to stay out of trouble! :)