Friends a Big Influence on Grades in Middle School: Study

'Pro-social' crowd does better, especially when avoiding troublemakers, findings show

MONDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Among middle-school students, friendships can make the difference between good and poor grades, researchers have found.

Students whose friends are socially active in positive ways get better grades, while those with friends who behave badly get lower grades, according to the results of a new study. In addition, having "pro-social" friends and also staying away from deviant peers was associated with even higher grades than simply being friends with high-achieving students, the study authors noted.

The University of Oregon study included 1,278 students who were asked to name their three best friends. The researchers then examined the academic and behavioral records of those friends.

The findings show that during the middle-school years "a great deal of learning is taking place that is not being attended to," study co-author Thomas J. Dishion, director of the Child and Family Center and a professor of school psychology, said in a university news release. "Puberty is taking place. The brain is changing rapidly. Kids' brains are almost wired to be reading the social world to see how they fit in, and the school is the arena for it."

The researchers suggested that parents and teachers "should pay special attention" to changes in students' friendships at this age.

"Parents should pay attention to what their kids are doing and with whom they hang out," study co-author Marie-Helene Veronneau, also of the Child and Family Center, said in the news release.

"If parents notice that there is a shift in a child's friendship network, they should try to get to know those kids, talk with teachers and communicate naturally with their own child about where they are going and when they will be coming home," she suggested.

The researchers also urge adults to help kids get involved in adult-supervised activities because these can help encourage pro-social relationships.

The study is published in the February issue of the Journal of Early Adolescence.

More information

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry offers a look inside the teen brain.

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