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The Importance of Friends

The Need for Friends

Famous American psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan understood the importance of interpersonal relationships and wrote about the need for childhood friends in “The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry” (1953).[1] Friends teach children to foster sensitivity to others’ needs and help them learn how to contribute to the happiness of others.1 In return, children obtain validation of self-worth. In her article, “The Importance of Friends, ” Karen Dineen Wagner, M.D., Ph.D. states that friendships are crucial to the mental health of developing children and adolescents.[2]

Lack of Friends = Lack of Socialization

FriendsAccording to Wagner, there are times that clinicians come across children who do not have any friends at all, as they have been unsuccessful in forming close relationships.2 If a child spends too much time at home without the company of playmates or participates in family-time rather than friend-time, they will be unfulfilled.2 They need a close friend.

When a new school year begins, the issue stirs up distressing emotions among those who are friendless.2 They dread attending school, as they feel no one likes them and they have no one to talk to. Lunchtime and recess are stressful times as they have no one to sit with and no one to interact with on the playground. Adolescents who remain friendless beg to be homeschooled or complete classes online so they do not have to continue to be subjected to the torment that physically going to school brings them.2 Although parents may wish to accommodate their children’s wishes, Wagner states that they should not.2 Instead, they should encourage them to attend school, and even encourage them to get involved in extracurricular activities.2 Isolation will only limit their capabilities to improve their social skills and foster friendships in the future.2

A Study of Friends

Adams and colleagues recently completed a study that examined the role of a best friend in protecting against the effect of negative experiences.[3] Their study included 103 fifth and sixth graders who, over four consecutive school days, filled out booklets five times per day.3 Each time, they were asked to recall the past twenty minutes, stating who they were with, how they felt during a negative experience, and rate their self-worth.3 Researchers found that best friends did, in fact, cushion the effects of negative experiences and kept the student’s self-worth up.3

Therefore, Wagner states that it is important for clinicians to address the issue of friendships when treating children.2 Parents should be made to understand the need for friends in their child’s life.2 For children who are having a difficult time making or keeping friendships, psychotherapy is available to promote positive peer interactions.2


[1] Sullivan HS. The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry: A Systematic Presentation of the Later Thinking of One of the Great Leaders in Modern Psychiatry. New York: WW Norton & Company Inc; 1953.

[2] Wagner, KD. (2012, Nov. 6). The Importance of Friends. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/child-adolescent-psych/content/article/10168/2112466

[3] Adams RE, Santo JB, Bukowski WM. The presence of a best friend buffers the effects of negative experiences. Dev Psychol. 2011;47:1786-1791. Friends.

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