Parents often think teenagers are overly obsessed with their best friends. They should let them be.

New research published in the journal Child Development shows that teens aged 15 and 16 who had a close friend, rather than a bigger peer group featuring less intense relationships, reported higher levels of self-worth and lower levels of social anxiety and depression at 25 compared with their peers who were more broadly popular as teens.

Prior research has shown that friendship is important in adolescence—it predicts everything from stronger psychological health and better stress responses to improved academic motivation and success during adolescence.

Rachel K. Narr, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia who led the study, wanted to dig deeper into teenage friendships: which kinds matter the most when it comes to positive outcomes later in life? And how long do those effects last?

“My hunch was that close friendships compared to broader friendship groups and popularity may not function the same way,” she says. “Being successful in one is not the same as being successful in the other.”

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