Scientific Reasons Why Your Teen Should Choose Their Friends Wisely

Our kids' friends hold the power to lift them up or tear them down...

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Scientific Reasons Why Your Teen Should Choose Their  Friends Wisely

Written by: Marybeth Bock 

If you’re like most parents of teens, you’ve realized by now that you’ve suddenly (and without warning) been quietly pushed aside by your teen to make room for their friends.

Where our kids once used to come to us for advice, to vent, or to just hang out and maybe grab a burger when they were bored, so often, they now turn to their friends.

Our influence, guidance, and powerful words of advice based on years of life experience all too often fall on deaf ears with our kids’ friends now becoming the primary voice in their heads. 

And, that’s great when our kids are doing life alongside amazing friends who are a powerful, positive influence. But we all know, that’s not always the case. Our kids’ friends hold the power to lift them up or pull them down, help them stay on track or derail them, boost their self-esteem or tear them to shreds — that’s why our teens’ friends should be chosen carefully. Here are a few scientific reasons why your teen should choose friends wisely.

Scientific Reasons Why Your Teen Should Choose Their Friends Wisely


1. Your Teen’s Friends Can Greatly Affect Their Mood

According to Psychologist, Leslie Becker, Phelps, Ph.D., “Emotions are contagious, in part, because people have neurons in their brains that mirror what those around them are experiencing. So, when someone is generally happy and upbeat, you’re more likely to feel positive in their presence. Conversely, when someone travels with a raincloud over their head, it can leave you in a dark, foreboding mood.” 

That’s not to say our teens shouldn’t befriend someone who’s not upbeat all the time. No one is happy all the time. But it’s important for them to recognize that hanging with a constant “Debbie downer” can and will impact their mood. 

2. Their Friends Affect How They View Themselves

In our kids’ vulnerable, “friend-pleasing” teen years, they often view themselves through their friends’ eyes. If their friends view them in a positive or negative light, our kids will take that to heart which can impact their self-esteem in a big way.

One group of researchers found that people will become more like their ideal selves when they’re surrounded by friends who view them as they’d like to be. In other words, encourage your teen to seek friends who think the best of them, and encourage and believe in them. 

3. Their Friends Can Influence Your Teen’s Choices – Good OR Bad

There’s a quote that states, “We become like the people we spend our time with.” This certainly holds true in our kids’ teen years when they’re prone to peer pressure and their desire to fit in is at an all-time high.  

Everything from the name brands they wear and how they spend their free time to the music they listen to and their attitudes about school and their grades – like it or not, our teens’ friends hold the power to sway our kids’ likes, behavior, and decisions.

According to one study, “Peer influence can be both negative or positive. We tend to think that friend influence leads teens to engage in unhealthy or unsafe behaviors but it can actually motivate them to study harder in school, do community service, and participate in sports and other productive endeavors. In fact, most teens report that their peers pressure them not to engage in drug use and sexual activity.”

NOTE: The same study found that parents continue to be a highly significant and influential force in their kids’ lives. In other words, parents, stay connected to your teen and keep communicating… they ARE listening.

4. Strong-Willed Friends Can Increase Your Teen’s Self-Control

If your teen sometimes struggles to resist certain negative temptations, surrounding themselves with friends who possess self-discipline can help.

Research shows that when our kids are running low on self-control – maybe they’re tempted to skip class, drink, or do drugs – they will often seek out self-disciplined friends to boost their willpower. 

Teens’ underdeveloped brains make them more prone to taking risks (and having less self-control). But when they build connections with kids who have strong willpower or who have developed habits that make them more self-disciplined, it can increase their ability to avoid a possible “slippery slope.”

5. Friends Can Influence Your Teen’s Spending Habits

Expensive concert tickets, name-brand athletic shoes, or the coolest hair treatments and highlights – our kids’ friends can certainly make our kids feel pressured to jump on the “groupthink” bandwagon.

According to a Psychology Today article, “Beware of your friends’ influence on your shopping decisions. The people you hang out with and are closest to influence your spending choices far more than you think.”

6. Too Many Social Media “Friends” Can Increase Your Teen’s Stress Levels

It’s no secret that a lot of teens place a ton of emphasis on the number of followers they have and getting likes, thumbs up, and hearts on social media. But what they may not realize, is that all those connections are causing them added stress.

According to experts, the more followers a teen has the more they’ll feel pressured to keep up their online popularity, worry about offending followers with content or pictures, and deal with FOMO (fear of missing out) anxiety. They can also feel inadequate when they compare themselves to others and feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of time it takes to keep up with posts and comments.

Dr. Candice Odgers, professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, found that teens who spend a lot of time on social media and have a large network of online friends may be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

7. Strong Friendships Set Your Teen Up for Success

One study conducted by Hugh Kelly, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, found that strong friendships set teens up for success later in life. Close bonds with good-hearted, supportive, caring friends can boost

kids up,  provide emotional support during the ups and downs of “teenagering,” help them develop important social skills, and mostly, give them a strong sense of belonging.

Strong friendships can also keep our teens on the right track. Research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that teenagers who feel supported by their friends were less likely to engage in risky behavior.

Here’s How to Help Your Teen Choose Friends Wisely

1. Talk About What Friendship IS and ISN’T

While it’s never a good idea to outright forbid a friendship, or try to manufacture one for your teen, you can talk about what friendship truly means, and make (gentle) factual observations about your teen’s friends and how they’re treating your child. Also, share stories, both good and bad, about how friends influenced you while you were a teenager.

2. Get to Know Their Friends

Your teen’s friends are like family to them, so make it a point to get to know them. Encourage them to hang out at your house, take an interest in their world and offer to be the designated driver. Not only will you be sending the message to your teen that you care about them and their friends, you’ll also get a bird’s eye view into your teen’s tender world. 

3. Talk About the Pitfalls of Social Media

Help your teen understand the pitfalls of obsessing over followers, likes, or hearts. Encourage them to spend time building quality relationships with friends who they see on a regular basis and have things in common with. (Your teen doesn’t need a big circle of friends. Even having one or two close friends can be enough to make them feel accepted and valued.)

4. Help Them Learn About Friendship Boundaries

Talk about what healthy values and boundaries look like in a friendship and encourage your teen to seek out friends who share their values and morals and respect their boundaries. Make sure they know that disagreements can be a normal part of friendships and are a way for them to learn how to navigate conflict in a healthy way.

5. Show Them What Friendship Looks Like

Model being a good friend so your teen can see you demonstrating qualities, including honesty, trust, and empathy. Whether you’re reaching out and making new friends or nurturing friendships you’ve had since childhood, your teen stands to gain a lot by seeing how you foster healthy friendships.


Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


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