Caring Friendships Make the Difference

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Negative stories seem to dominate the news these days. But good news stories of young activists taking stands against injustices like bullying or poverty, or promoting access to education and other worthy causes are becoming more prevalent.

What fuels the desire in certain young people to make the world a better place, and why are some more proactive than others in making a change, however large or small?

New research published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence shows that the way young people care for their friends affects apathy or empathy, and directly relates to a teen’s concern with making a difference.

“Increasing our understanding of adolescents’ relationships with friends can help us understand what kind of adults they might become,” says Anna-Beth Doyle, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Concordia University’s Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development.

The researchers found that adolescents who had caring relationships with their friends were more likely to develop a concern for others beyond their immediate circle. “The real-life experience of caring for friends seems to give teens an abstract model of the importance of offering care to future generations,” says Heather Lawford, primary author of the study. “Adolescents may learn to apply this empathic concern to the welfare of their community.”

According to Lawford and Doyle, “This research has an important message for teachers, parents and psychologists involved with adolescents: if we can successfully foster young teens showing care for their friends, we have a good chance of also fostering a desire to leave a positive mark on their community and the world.”

Kellye Copas

Staff writer Kellye Copas has several years experience writing for the alternative health industry. Her background is in non-profit fundraising, copywriting and direct mail and web marketing.