The Surprising Way Teenagers Make Friends

Elise Solé

Watch a classic teen movie like “The Breakfast Club” or “Mean Girls,” and you may think you have high school life figured out: Kids make friends based on what group they identify with, be it the jocks, the cheerleaders, the geeks, the weirdos, or some other clique. However, a new study of 3,000 students published Saturday by Michigan State University smashes stereotypes about the way teens pair off in school.

“People want to believe that high school kids are making friends based on what clique they identify with, but that’s not completely true,” Kenneth Frank, PhD, a professor at Michigan State University's College of Education, tells Yahoo Shine. “People may rely on these stereotypes as a reference point to make sense of how high school kids operate: however, the classes students take are also an important indicator of who they’ll be friends with."

The study found that kids will seek out like-minded people within the pool of peers they have access to. In other words, if your child loves playing musical instruments, he won’t necessarily make an effort to meet musical kids from other classes, but if there’s a trumpet player in his chemistry class, the odds of them forming a friendship are great.
What's more, students probably won’t make a best friend when they’re grouped together in large, required courses such as physical education or geometry. Instead, friendships are more likely to form if kids find themselves in electives like Latin or woodshop together, where they’re grouped with those who likely opted to take those specialized courses.

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And despite the fact that high school can be a breeding ground for bullying, the study found that kids in the same small classes care less about how "cool" someone is and are less judgmental of identifiers such as gender and race.

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“It could be helpful for parents to understand the dynamics of how children form ties at high school and that the courses he or she chooses will shape their future friendships,” says Frank.

And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with a kid forming his identity by joining a certain crowd — in fact, says Frank, people who stick with similar people may receive more emotional support from the group when times are tough — those who are able to float between groups may be the best prepared for life after high school. “Being able to communicate and blend with all different types of people may result in a kid who is more open-minded," he says.

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