Friendship in all its forms: why diverse social networks build resiliency in youth

March 20, 2023

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Full Cycle First Nations

It is widely acknowledged that friendship is an important part of childhood development and that the impact goes far beyond social connections. In addition to mental health benefits such as reducing stress and loneliness, friendships are also known to improve brain health[1], impact levels of obesity[2] and increase life expectancy[3]. For young people, positive peer connections are important components of resiliency and developing these in after-school programming results in greater connections to other long-term support systems.[4],[5]  Interestingly, these multitude benefits are even further increased when friendships are diverse.

The impact of friendship diversity

Diversity in friendship has been proven to improve resiliency in youth, both when the type of relationship is varied (ie. adult/youth, student/teacher, staff/volunteer, etc.) and the background of the individuals in the friendship is distinct (culture, personal history, etc.).[6],[7]

Children with a diverse friendship group tend to:

According to research, diverse friend groups allow children to develop the skills necessary to succeed in our increasingly globalized world.[14] They also increase awareness, and reduce instances, of discrimination and prejudice. Combined, this gives young people an improved ability to successfully navigate the world around them as they grow, explore new situations and meet new people.

Our impact on friendships

Our programs, especially bike trips, bring together a diverse group of young people, all joined together for a common mission.  While many of our programs are based in schools, being involved in programs at TWV puts young people into a different context, where they learn to see their peers in a new light. It also gives some young people the chance to interact with adults in a new way, one that can be seen as more supportive and less authoritative than teachers or parents.

We actively consider and discuss concepts like diversity and culture with the kids in our programs, in an effort to foster improved understanding, acceptance and hopefully, friendship. So far, we’ve been successful in doing just that. A 2016-2017 evaluation of Two Wheel View programming found that all three of our main program areas (Earn-a-Bike, Bike Trips and the Full Cycle program) resulted in positive peer and adult connections.[15]

75% of Earn-A-Bike participants felt they had made new friends through the program, and 72% felt they got to hang out with their friends more during the program. Further, 85% of Earn-A-Bike participants indicated that they felt a connection with their Two Wheel View facilitator. Positive adult connections are also a critical component for positive youth development.[16]

100% of Bike Trip participants felt they had made new friends on their trip, and 75% felt they got to hang out with their friends more during the journey. These positive peer connections made outside the school environment deepen positive supports for youth in their communities. Further, 95% of Bike Trip participants indicated that they felt a connection with their bike trip leaders, enabling youth to interact with positive adults and form healthy adult connections in a unique environment.

72% of Full Cycle participants felt they got to hang out with their friends more through the Earn-A-Bike component and 100%felt they got to hang out with their friends more through the Bike Trip component. While many students in the First Nations’ community schools already know each other, and only 33% indicated that they had made new friends in the Earn-A- Bike component of Full Cycle, 69% indicated that they had made new friends on their Bike Trip. On the Bike Trip, participants also indicated greater connection with positive adults, with 100% of Full Cycle Bike Trip participants feeling connected to the Two Wheel View facilitators, and 92% indicating they got to know their school teachers better. Connection between Indigenous students and their teachers can lead to increased student engagement in school while simultaneously creating opportunities for teachers to better understand students’ strengths.[17]

All friendships look and feel very different and it turns out that’s a good thing. By exposing young people to new people, with new experiences and ideas, we help challenge their thinking patterns, expand their world-view and develop their ability to successfully interact with others.

[1] Harvard Women’s Health Watch. (2010). The health benefits of strong relationships.

[2] Christakis, N. & Fowler, J. (2007). The Spread of obesity in a large network over 32 years. The New England Journal of Medicine.

[3] Giles, L., Glonek, G., Luszcz, M., & Andrews, G. Effect of social networks on 10 year survival in very old Australians: the Australian longitudinal study of aging. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Vol. 59: 7.

[4] Innes, M & Dozois, E. (2017). “Working with Vulnerable Youth to Enhance their Natural Supports: A Practice Framework.” Developmental Evaluation. Funded by Burns Memorial Foundation & United Way of Calgary.

[5] Hammond, W., & Zimmerman, R. (2010). Alberta Mentoring Partnership School Resiliency Demonstration Site Project Report.

[6] Bagci, S. C., Kumashiro, M., Smith, P. K., Blumberg, H., & Rutland, A. (2014). Cross-ethnic friendships: Are they really rare? Evidence from secondary schools around London. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 41, 125–137.

[7]Fletcher, A. C., Rollins, A., & Nickerson, P. (2004). The extension of school-based inter-and intraracial children’s friendships: influences on psychosocial well-being. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 74(3), 272–285.

[8] Eisenberg, N., Vaughan, J., & Hofer, C. (2009). Temperament, self-regulation, and peer social competence. In K. H. Rubin, W. M. Bukowski, & B. Laursen (Eds.), Handbook of peer interactions, relationships, and groups (pp. 473–489). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

[9] Lease, A. M., & Blake, J. J. (2005). A comparison of majority-race children with and without a minority-race friend. Social Development, 14(1), 20–41.

[10] Bagci, S. C., Kumashiro, M., Smith, P. K., Blumberg, H., & Rutland, A. (2014). Cross-ethnic friendships: Are they really rare? Evidence from secondary schools around London. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 41, 125–137.

[11] Killen,M., Crystal, D., &Ruck, M. (2007). The social developmental benefits of heterogeneous school environments. In E. Frankenberg & G. Orfield (Eds.), Lessons in integration: Realizing the promise of racial diversity in American schools (pp. 57–73). Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.

[12] Tropp, L. R., & Prenovost, M. (2008). The role of intergroup contact in predicting interethnic attitudes: Evidence from meta-analytic and field studies. In S. Levy & M. Killen (Eds.), Intergroup attitudes and relations in childhood through adulthood (pp. 236–248). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[13] Kawabata, Y., & Crick, N. R. (2008). The role of cross-racial/ethnic friendships in social adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 44(4), 1177–1183.

[14] Globe Smart Kinds. (2013). Globe Smart Kids: Skills to Succeed in a Globalized World. Retrieved December 10, 2018.

[15] Constellation Consulting Group. (2018). Two Wheel View Evaluation Results: 2016-2017 Youth Programming.

[16] FCSS. (2014). “Research Brief 4: Positive Social Ties and Vulnerable Populations.” City of Calgary, Family and Community Support Services: Calgary.

[17] Riley, T. & Ungerleider, C. (2012). “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: How Teachers’ Attributions, Expectations, and Stereotypes Influence the Learning Opportunities Afforded Aboriginal Students.” Canadian Journal of Education, 35:2, 303-333.

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Intentional community building should not be overlooked. When we come together, we talk through our insecurities, our uncertainties and share stories to help us better understand each other and the world we live in.

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