LONDON: A single supportive close friendship can help young people from low-income backgrounds to thrive in challenging circumstances, says new research.
"Boys' and girls' best friendships are an important source of meaning and strength in the face of substantial adversity," said lead researcher Rebecca Graber from University of Sussex in Britain.
Young people from low-income areas typically face substantial challenges to good physical health, mental health, academic achievement and employment.
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Previous research has linked these challenges to involvement with peers and membership of larger friendship groups - particularly among boys - but has not looked at whether young people's best friendships could positively contribute to resilience: self-reliance, a balanced perspective on life, and the ability to make meaning from difficult circumstances.
In the new study, the researchers surveyed 409 student aged between 11 and 19 from three schools and two colleges in Yorkshire serving catchment areas with poor socioeconomic status.
The researchers found that both boys' and girls' best friendships facilitated effective ways of coping (such as planning, reframing an issue in a positive way and using emotional support) that helped them develop resilience to complex challenges.
A significant gender difference also emerged: counterintuitively, girls' best friendships had a slight tendency to promote risky and ineffective ways of coping with adversity (such as self-blame and substance use), but boys' best friendships did not.
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"Our research suggests that boys' best friendships may be intimate, trustworthy and supportive, even as they face social pressures towards a stoic or macho masculinity," Graber said.
The research was published in the British Journal of Psychology.