PARENTS

Why Parents Shouldn't Worry If Their Teens Aren't Popular

It's OK if they only have a friend or two.

10/03/2017 11:48 EDT | Updated 10/03/2017 11:48 EDT
Getty Images

Once your child hits adolescence, there are a host of new worries that parents have to contend with — how to talk to them about sex, whether they'll get an STD/STI or pregnant, whether they're getting good grades and whether they're doing drugs.

And one new issue to ponder that probably never occurred to us when our kids were in middle or elementary school was popularity. Specifically, whether our kids are part of the school's "in" crowd.

Issues with making friends can come up at any age, but as kids get older, cliques often develop. And while some of our kids have no problem making tons of friends, most don't, and can find it difficult to find their tribe.

And as parents, this can make us wonder whether our kids are lonely, being bullied, or whether they'll grow up without those important social connections we make when we're teenagers.

Worry not — according to science, it's OK if our teenagers aren't part of the popular crew.

Getty Images

As reported by Scary Mommy, a new study conducted by the University of Virginia tracked the friendships of teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 25 to find out whether it was better to have a lot of friends or just a few.

Researchers found that having just one or two close friends was, in fact, a lot better than having a big group of friends that didn't share a deep connection with one another.

Basically, you don't have to worry if your beautiful, shy teen isn't sitting at the "cool" table with a dozen so-called friends. Not only does being popular do little to ensure future success and social connections, it also doesn't mean teens will be happier as adults.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

According to the researchers, study participants who reported having fewer but better friends also reported having less anxiety, less depression, and a higher sense of self-worth.

Todor Tsvetkov

"We think that when kids are focused on being popular instead of forming those deep connections, that's when we see problems," the study's lead author, Rachel Narr, explained to Vice. "The kinds of things it takes to be well-known and appealing as a teenager often don't last well long-term — drinking, sex, clothes. Being the pseudomature kid is 'cool' in high school, but by 25, it doesn't set you apart and make you a leader in the same way."

Being the pseudomature kid is 'cool' in high school, but by 25, it doesn't set you apart and make you a leader in the same way.

Which makes sense, as the study found that teens who said they were popular in high school reported a decline in their mental health as they got older, citing higher levels of social anxiety once they left high school.

kali9 via Getty Images

According to psychologist Mitch Prinstein, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, being popular — or not — really does make an impact on our later life.

"Research findings... indicate that those who care the most about their social standing grow up to have difficulties with their interpersonal relationships years later," he explained to Scientific American. "They remain fixated on their status and even on others' popularity rather than on attributes that may lead to fulfilling human connection. Other research suggests that those who wish the most for status are most likely to later report anxiety, depression and problems with substance use."

Those who care the most about their social standing grow up to have difficulties with their interpersonal relationships years later.

He continued: "Even our children are getting the message that the number of their social media followers is an accomplishment worth striving for. Yet ironically, the more we seek these online markers of status—retweets, 'likes,' shares — the more we feel segmented and disconnected from one another."

Also on HuffPost: