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Study says kids without friends of the opposite sex do better in school

According to a new study, kids who are in high school and do not have friends of the opposite sex will have a .04 higher GPA than kids who are incredibly social with both sexes.

This is true for kids 16 and over; for kids younger than 16, it’s only true for math and science. But let’s face it; your kids spend a lot of time at school. It’s their job. And if she has after-school activities, plays sports or is in an academic club, she will spend even more time there, which means she will be spending more time with her friends too. For decades, parents and educators have wondered: Are single-gender schools better than mixing boys and girls together in the same classrooms?

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This study would tell you that single gender schools are in fact better, education-wise. Except, there are a few small issues that I, as a psychologist, have with this study. The author, Andrew Hill, says that his results, “indicate that opposite-gender friends increase the probability of being in a romantic relationship, which may have adverse effects on achievement.” Um, Andy, may I call you Andy? What about gays and lesbians? Won’t they be distracted by same sex friends?

My other issue, Andy: Does a .04 increase in GPA have any correlation to lifelong success at work? What about social development?

When parents ask me, “If my child expands their social circles and has a better social education, can that help them in the long-term?” I (and other psychologists) will tell you, “yes!” Social competence is an important skill and can be even more predictive than education. Kids can learn social structure, which could help them maneuver better later on in work environments. Workplaces, let’s face it, become as much about social interactions as anything else. You want your kid to become a doctor? Great. She’d better be comfortable telling patients bad news or talking to patient’s families. Will she work in a corporate office? Fine. Well, a large amount of those big deals she will land happen over dinners.

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More importantly, in their book Popularity in the Peer System, Antonius H.N. Cillessen, David Schwartz and Lara Mayeux say that adolescents who are well liked by their peers score higher in other prosocial areas and have higher scores overall when it comes to behavioral, cognitive and emotional development. They also say that kids who are well liked by both genders are more cooperative and less aggressive.

I think it’s interesting that this study finds that kids who don’t have opposite sex friends achieve higher academically, but Andy himself pointed to a few flaws in the study. First, it was self-reported, meaning they asked the kids, “Is this person your friend?” So, for example, if Amanda says that Jason is her friend but Jason doesn’t say that Amanda is his friend, then that friendship is not given weight for this study. But isn’t that how tweens roll? If you asked a group of 13-year-olds to name their five closest friends, what are the odds that the people they name would have named them too?

Also, Andy says that low-performing individuals may disproportionately nominate opposite gender neighbors as friends (perhaps to appear more popular) without them actually being friends. Huh. That’s’ both interesting and problematic.

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However, Andy was smart. He used data from a very well respected and large group of kids, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. He also studied over 20,000 kids from 80 different schools. That means that he probably found something important, and we can consider this research to be both reliable and valid. He also found that in a classroom setting, kids who have opposite gendered friends are more concerned with what those friends think of them. This may make them less comfortable in class and less likely to ask questions.

So, what does this mean for you as a parent? It means that if your child has lots of friends of both genders, and is well liked, they will do better emotionally and socially and the long-term effects are wholly protective. However, that same child may not feel comfortable speaking up in class in front of the opposite sex, which has a negative impact on their grades and how they perceive their teachers. This study is a good argument for why in math and science it may not be a bad idea to urge educators to have single-gendered classrooms for younger kids.

I would say that you should limit the number of opposite gendered friends your child interacts with regularly, but I know that as a tween, my mom had very little say in who I was friends with at school. Then again, my mom didn’t have to contend with my 3000 Facebook friends too. Hmmmmm, what about those friends, Andy? Ok, next time…

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