Pediatricians and child behavior specialists who work with teens know that adolescence is an incredibly important time for social growth. Yet these years can be fraught with anxiety for the parents of teens. How will you know if your moody teen is hanging out with the right people? Which friends might be a bad influence? How can you help your son or daughter develop healthy relationships?
Recent research has addressed some aspects of these questions. One study entitled “Spreading of healthy mood in adolescent social networks,” published this year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, investigated whether a teen whose friends have a healthy mood is less likely to be depressed. It also looked at how emotionally healthy friends affected a teen’s recovery from depression. Basically, the researchers wanted to find out: is a good mood contagious?
The study involved roughly 3,000 teens. Each study volunteer completed two surveys, six months apart, in which he or she listed up to five male and five female friends. Each teen was then followed over time, to see how his or her mood changed.
One of the interesting things about this study is that these researchers defined depression as a behavior, not necessarily as a disease that someone could get. This allowed them to do their statistical analysis a little differently from previous studies looking at the same subject matter, and it uncovered the potential power of positively minded friends.
The investigators found that having a social network made up of friends with a healthy mood cut a teenager’s probability of developing depression in half over a 6- to 12-month period. It also significantly improved the chances of recovering from depression for teens who already suffered from it. While the data don’t show a direct cause and effect, this study does suggest that having friends with a healthy mood may reduce the risk of depression and make it a little easier to recover from depression should it occur.