AIFS shares information about the value of middle years friendships
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > AIFS shares information about the value of middle years friendships

AIFS shares information about the value of middle years friendships

by Freya Lucas

March 01, 2024

Educators working with children in vacation care or outside school hours care (OSHC) settings may be interested in a new report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) which examines the role of friendship in the middle years of childhood. 


After reviewing Australian and international research on children aged between 8 and 14 years, AIFS concluded that having positive and supportive friendships in the middle years of childhood reduces stress, enhances self-esteem and helps with negotiating relationships later in life.


AIFS have used their findings to develop a policy and practice paper that shows the value of positive peer relationships, and the profound impact they have on health and wellbeing, as well as learning and academic performance.  


Dr Mandy Truong, who co-authored the report, said that the number of friends a young person has is of lesser importance than the calibre of the friendships. 


“During the middle years of childhood young people experience rapid physical and mental development,” Dr Truong noted. 


“They are faced with the disruption of moving from primary to secondary school, and navigating relationships both online and in the real world.” 


During this time, parental influence is also diminishing, and the presence of one or two good friends can make a profound difference for children. 


It is important for parents and caregivers, such as those in OSHC settings, to understand the value of remaining connected to friends, even if those friends are online. 


“After a day at school many young people want to continue the conversation with their friends – whether online or in-person – which might be when they lean on each other for support. Some young people only discover their ‘tribe’ online, making those interactions even more important,” Dr Truong said.


While parents and caregivers need to be aware of who the children are interacting with, to ensure those interactions are healthy, it is important to find something which works, and which nurtures healthy friendships. 


For those children who have difficulty making friends, researchers suggest supporting children with strategies to resolve conflict in a healthy way, promote resilience, build healthy communication and learn to self-regulate. 


“It may be that they need encouragement to make those connections, which is where social activities like team sports, music or theatre can come in,” Dr Truong said.


While many educators and parents are aware of the importance of the early years, less attention is paid to the middle years, she continued, urging further research. 


“What happens in these friendships plays a key role in how relationships are negotiated in later adolescence, so it’s critical that we deepen our understanding of the factors at play,” she said. 


The influence of peer relationships in the middle years on mental health may be accessed using the link provided.  

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