Florida: A novel study published in the Journal of Family Psychology sheds light on why childhood friendships fall apart and is the first to demonstrate that parents are an important source of these breakups.
Looking at data from 1,523 children (766 boys) from grades one to six, researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland conducted a survival analysis to identify the characteristics of parents that predict the stability of their children's friendships. The researchers examined mother and father reports of their own depressive symptoms and parenting styles and used these reports to predict the occurrence and timing of the dissolution of best friendships from the beginning to the end of elementary school.
"We already know that peer status plays an important role in friendship outcomes. For example, well-liked children have more long-lasting relationships than do their classmates," said Brett Laursen, Ph.D., co-author of the study and a professor and graduate studies coordinator in the Department of Psychology in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. "Our study is the first to include both parent characteristics and peer social status in the same model to identify the unique contributions of parents to child friendship stability."
Results from the study found clear support for their hypothesis that negative features of parenting, such as depression and psychological control, increase the risk that best friendships would end.
A surprising finding from the study that was contrary to the researchers' expectations was that they did not find any evidence that positive parenting behaviors like warmth and affection altered the stability of children's best friendships.
"We were hoping that positive behaviors would help extend the life of friendships and that it would be a buffer or a protective factor," said Laursen. "This wasn't the case -- warmth and affection don't appear to make that much of a difference. It's the negative characteristics of parents that are key in determining if and when these childhood friendships end."
"Depressed and psychologically controlling parents create an affective climate that is detrimental to a child's well-being, with problems that spill over into the peer social world. Best friendships are one causality of this affective spillover," said Laursen. "We believe that children with depressed and psychologically controlling parents are not learning healthy strategies for engaging with other people, which could have long-term consequences for their future relationships."
(Materials provided by Florida Atlantic University. )