The Hard Facts: Friendly Kids Make Happy Adults

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Good social relationships in your youth might translate to happiness as an adult, while doing well in school seems to have little influence on well-being later in life, new research suggests.” (“Why Being Social In Youth Is Linked To Adult Happiness”; 8/2/2012)

Let me start by saying one thing: I don’t have kids.

That seems a necessary disclaimer for a post like this. Because I want to be very clear that I’m not telling you how to raise your kids. I don’t have kids, so who am I to give advice?

Right? Right.

Ok. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about this study. “The study is based on 32 years’ worth of data for 804 people who participated in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS) in New Zealand. … The researchers reported a strong ‘pathway’ from child and adolescent social connectedness to adult well-being and happiness.” In fact, the pathway from childhood sociability to adult happiness is stronger than the link between academic achievement or early language development and happiness. Interesting. That’s not to say that academic achievement isn’t important — but it isn’t everything.

There’s a lot of pressure on kids these days to do it all–school, sports, arts, volunteer, other things that I probably haven’t even heard of. They’re scheduled down to the minute, with parents spending their weekends chauffeuring from one practice to another. When I was in high school, much of this “doing” was to guarantee a strong college application. I’d like to think that’s not the reason for second graders who spend Saturdays running from gymnastics to swim practice to piano lessons to dance class, but who knows. Still, if this research says anything, it’s that it’s just as important to allow for childhood socializing. In the long run, apparently, that’s what counts.

This research shouldn’t come as a surprise really. We already know that strong adult relationships are a major key to happiness, so why wouldn’t strong childhood relationships correlate in the same way? After all, those who learn young to be social are more likely to continue that behavior into adulthood.

So, all this to say, what’s wrong with letting kids hang out with other kids just for the sake of being social? When I have kids, will I be a horrible mom for putting a greater emphasis on friendship and socializing than, I don’t know, learning to speak German at age 2?

What do you think? Should helping kids socialize be priority numero uno?


Filed under The Search

7 responses to “The Hard Facts: Friendly Kids Make Happy Adults

  1. Here’s another article you might like about the importance of early social bonds:

  2. aimee

    I honestly think that kids are in way to many activities. My son just started Kindergarten. He has been in taekwondo since he was 4. I started him in that to help with his shyness. He is a military kid and with daddy on deployments he is very attached to me plus he is an only child. Due to medical reasons I can’t have more. So anyways I have friends who’s kids are literally in every activity and it is crazy the schedules these people have. I think one sport or activity a semester is enough and one sport if any in the summer. Kids get burned out and tired. SOme of my friends kids don’t even like the sport they are playing but have to play because the parents make them. That to me is sad. And honestly I don’t want to be running all over the state going to tournaments when my son is five. I want to have fun and go to the park and relax with a picnic while he plays with his puppy. Or whatever. I hope parents realize all of this over activity is not good for the kids and will just let them pick one or two things they are really good at or that they enjoy and go with that.

  3. As a momME, I do believe that socialization skills are very important and yes, more important than speaking German. Speaking German is not a necessity, however learning how to positively imteract with people from different walks of life can take them very far.

  4. I hold to my theory that for school and job opportunities, social skills are just as important as education, so I would be right there with you emphasizing social skills and friendship to my hypothetical children.

  5. I think children should be taught to love themselves and be aware of themselves and their surroundings before being pushed to socialize. If children socialize too early on, they will not be aware of their unique abilities, and simply follow the crowd. By learning to accept themselves, children will be able to more easily accept others’ similarities and differences. This is the key to happiness.

  6. Thanks for this! As a mother of a 17 year old with Asperger Syndrome, I can tell you that the hardest part of it all has been his inability to make friends and have real lasting relationships. Seeing him left out of all the birthday parties, play dates, sleep overs, sports activities (his choice because the other kids were so mean to him), and all other social events left me incredibly sad for him and as a result, incredibly sad in general. He has never had a friend. Never. Not one. He’s a very smart guy and could do very well in school but all of the social hardships have caused depression, pain and frustration that had a direct impact on his academic life. Yes, his lack of socialization has directly effected my happiness and will absolutely effect his happiness as an adult.

  7. Sure, it’s important that kids socialize with other children, although they don’t tend to play together very well until they approach 3 years old. The thing is, it really becomes about the mothers socializing with each other. You will make friends with mothers who you enjoy spending time with and, consequently, your children will end up being friends with their children. The tricky part comes when your kids start getting a bit older and don’t want to hang out with your friend’s kids any more. Then you need to start seeking out play dates, usually around school age, and it becomes less about what you get out of it.

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