The Waters of Friendship: Insights for School Psychologists and Mental Health Advocates

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Understanding friendship dynamics becomes crucial as our young students navigate the challenging transition from primary to secondary school. The recent study “Early adolescents’ perspectives on factors that facilitate and hinder friendship development with peers at the time of school transition,” sheds light on this critical aspect of adolescent life.

Understanding the Transition

The transition from primary to secondary school significantly shifts a young person’s life. It’s a time of new environments, faces, and challenges. For many early adolescents, this period is pivotal in shaping their social circles and, by extension, their mental health and well-being.

What the Study Reveals

The study engaged over 900 students in Austria, using participatory research methods. This approach allowed the adolescents to actively contribute to analyzing data about their own experiences and perceptions.

Key Findings:

  1. Value of Kindness: Adolescents place high importance on kindness in peers. This trait is seen as pivotal in establishing a sense of safety and trust within friendships.
  2. Role of Empathy and Support: Supportive actions and empathy are crucial. Adolescents value peers who offer help, understanding, and practical assistance.
  3. Conflict Management: The ability to manage conflicts effectively and avoid negative behaviors is a significant factor in sustaining friendships.
  4. Importance of Spending Time Together: Engaging in common activities and spending quality time together fosters stronger bonds.
  5. Digital Communication: With the rise of digital media, communication through these platforms plays an essential role in maintaining and developing friendships.

Implications for School Psychologists and Mental Health Advocates:

  • Promoting Kindness: Programs that encourage kindness and empathy can create a more supportive school environment.
  • Conflict Resolution Skills: Teaching conflict management skills can help students maintain healthier relationships.
  • Encouraging Inclusive Activities: Schools should facilitate activities where students can interact and bond over shared interests, both in-person and digitally.
  • Digital Literacy: Educating students on healthy digital communication practices is crucial in today’s interconnected world.


The transition to secondary school is more than just an academic shift; it’s a critical time for social development. This study provides valuable insights for school psychologists and mental health advocates, emphasizing the importance of fostering an environment where kindness, empathy, and effective communication are at the forefront.

By understanding and addressing these key factors, we can help ease the transition for early adolescents, setting them on a path to healthier social interactions and mental well-being.

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