Who You Know
By Randi Schmelzer, Illustrations by Jacob Thomas
Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM
Curfews, restrictions, even flat-out bribery: For parents eager to advance their teen's academic success, these techniques are hardly foreign. A recent study, however, suggests such drastic measures may not be necessary.
"In addition to academic climate, the social climate of a school can make a big difference," says UCLA Professor of Psychiatry and senior study author Andrew J. Fuligni. "If the friends [a student] spends time with are tied to the school, that might really help to provoke achievement."
In other words, the more in-school BFFs your student has, the higher his or her GPA is likely to be.
Conducted by Fuligni and former grad student Melissa R. Witkow M.A. '01, Ph.D. '06, the study followed more than 600 diverse 12th-graders from three Los Angeles-area public schools. After filling out an initial questionnaire, each student kept a diary in which he/she documented experiences such as time spent studying, time spent with family and extracurricular activities.
Among the key findings: Students with more in-school than out-of-school friends had higher grade-point averages (and likewise, those with higher GPAs had more in-school friends).
"The study isn't meant to disparage out-of-school relationships," Fuligni notes. "Rather, it's to say what kinds of social factors might help kids do well in school."
The report finds, for example, that in-school friendships allow teens to more fully engage in the school experience; they create a sense of belonging at school, making attendance more likely. Having close in-school friendships also can make it more tolerable to spend after-school time studying.
Of course, involvement in a school's social scene isn't enough. "Students still need the resources to do well," Fuligni acknowledges. "They need the right books; they need good teachers."
Still, he says, a school's environment can play the essential role of just getting kids there in the morning — and getting them to stay.
"If you're faced with the question of should I skip algebra or not, and all of your friends are in algebra, you're probably less likely to skip that class," he says. "That's a factor we can use to keep students invested."