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How Our Childhood Friends Shape Our Lives

Two little girls who are childhood friends laughing and joking around together in front of a fence.

Relationships make us so much of who we are. We like to think we’re individuals, shaped only by our own choices, but the truth is that the relationships we have throughout our lives have just as much of an impact on who we are and who we become. And it’s not just romantic relationships that change our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. Friendships can be just as important, if not more so, in molding who we are and how we treat others.

Maybe you’re aware of how vital your friends are to you now, but what about the friends you’ve had in the past? What about your first friends?

Our childhood friends are the first relationships we have outside of our families. They’re the first friends we really choose, even if it’s just by virtue of proximity or circumstances. Maybe you met in grade school, or even earlier than that, on a playground. A childhood friendship doesn’t need to be lifelong to have a sizable impact on who you become. They leave an impact on you, long after you’ve lost touch.

Your self-esteem, identity, and confidence in yourself are linked to having friends early on in life. If you have good memories of the friends you grew up with, chances are they had a larger impact on you than you’d have guessed at the time. According to one study, childhood friendships, “offer an environment in which children are able to develop social competencies and build their self-esteem,” and can offer support of emotional and personal growth.

Put simply, your childhood friends are integral to your development, psychologically and emotionally. It’s hard to become a strong individual with a healthy idea of who you are and how you fit in the world without having had some good friends in your younger years. They were the mirrors that helped you figure yourself out. These are the people who helped you learn how to socialize, how to relate to others, and how to be a good friend. They helped you learn empathy, and gave you a more positive image of yourself. Your self-esteem now is a huge part of how you operate in romantic relationships and friendships in your adult life. 

The kids you grew up with impact how you fight, too. The first fights you had socially establish patterns that you may carry with you still. Did you always end up wanting to be the peacemaker in playground squabbles? That’s probably a through-line into your relationships today; you might find yourself sacrificing your own needs to a partner if you think it will make them happy and resolve conflict. If you were bullied, having one good friend who stood up for you could have had a huge impact on you. But it also taught you that you were worth standing up for in the first place. 

If you didn’t have any good friends growing up, the lack of it can still impact you to this day. Researchers have shown links between friendlessness and depression later in life. In this study, kids who didn’t have a friend in their adolescent years ended up being much more likely to have clinical depression and anxiety thirteen years later. That’s a huge impact! Don’t worry though, if you went without friends for a few years as a child, you aren’t broken. It just might explain a little more about your inner psyche than you thought.

If you did have good childhood friends, whether just a few or a lot, you’ve got a lot to be grateful for. They helped you become a better you, over each sleepover and clubhouse and band practice. And the great news is, you helped make them who they are today, too.

How about you? Are you still in touch with any of your childhood friends?

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