Falling in With the Wrong Crowd in Middle School Can Hurt Your Grades, Study Finds

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Tweens

Choosing the right friends -- especially kids who like school -- can improve your child's chances for academic success. Credit: Getty


"You mighta heard I run with a dangerous crowd. We ain't too pretty. We ain't too proud. We might be laughin' a bit too loud, but that never hurt no one." -- Billy Joel

"That never hurt no one?" Really, William? No one? Can you not see the image of your sainted middle school English teacher weeping at your use of a double negative?

Let's not even discuss your use of the word "ain't."

If you're in middle school, you might want to think twice before falling in with the likes of William and his grammatically incorrect chums. In fact, researchers at the University of Oregon suggest you choose all your friends wisely.

They can have a profound effect on your grades.

A new study, appearing in the February issue of the Journal of Early Adolescence, finds students who have positive social interactions with the right kind of friends tend to get better grades than, say, the kids who join the student chapter of Hell's Angels.

You know the type. They hang out at the mall all weekend, listening to loud and vulgar rap music, making fun of old people and ending sentences in prepositions.

Those are the kids who can really mess up your GPA.

Researchers asked 1,278 middle school students (55 percent of them girls) to name their three best friends. Researchers then examined the academic and behavioral records of those friends.

"A great deal of learning is taking place that is not being attended to," the study's co-author Thomas J. Dishion, director of the Child and Family Center and a professor of school psychology, says in a university news release.

"Puberty is taking place," he adds. "The brain is changing rapidly. Kids' brains are almost wired to be reading the social world to see how they fit in, and the school is the arena for it."

But what about the nerds? The unsung geniuses who might not have any friends?

The study's other co-author, Marie-Helene Veronneau, also of the Child and Family Center, tells ParentDish the research doesn't look at the effect of social isolation, but rather the effect of negative versus positive social interactions.

However, she says she can draw some general conclusions.

"It's better not to have any friends than negative influences," she tells ParentDish.

So, your kid gets bad grades in middle school. Big deal. Do middle school grades even matter? Actually, Veronneau tells ParentDish, they do.

"There's usually a strong correlation between grades across the years from middle school to high school," she says.

Plus, she adds, bad study habits that dog a child from middle to high school can handicap his or her chances of getting into college and pursuing other personal goals.

Of course, it's difficult to steer kids clear of negative influences. Simply stating thou shalt not be friends with this person or that person practically forces a defiant teen to become James Dean.

Veronneau suggests a gentler approach. She tells ParentDish parents should help kids develop positive social interactions by encouraging them to join groups that share common interests.

"Parents should pay attention to what their kids are doing and with whom they hang out," she says. "If parents notice that there is a shift in a child's friendship network, they should try to get to know those kids, talk with teachers and communicate naturally with their own child about where they are going and when they will be coming home."

The important thing is for kids make make a friend. Even just one.

"Just one friend can make the difference between feeling socially isolated and feeling supported," she tells ParentDish.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.