A new study from the University of Virginia has found that the way a kid handles conflict with others could have a huge impact on their long-term health. Research from the study shows that children in constant, unresolved conflict with their peers are more likely to end up suffering from a variety of health issues, including premature aging and arthritis.
The study, evocatively titled “The Body Remembers,” looked at the bloodstream of 28-year-olds and found that interleukin-6, a protein commonly associated with osteoporosis, cancerous tumors, arthritis, and a variety of other medical problems, was present and at high levels in 28-year-olds who struggled with social conflict at a young age. Meanwhile, 28-year-olds who handled social conflict gracefully when they were younger were far less likely to have high levels of the same dangerous protein.
“It’s easy for parents to think these adolescent relationships are trivial, that they don’t mean much, that it’s all passing. This is to say they aren’t trivial,” noted Joseph Allen, U-Va.’s Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology and the lead author on the study, in a statement.
To conduct the study, Allen and his team at UVA talked to 127 middle schoolers in 1988 and asked how they managed conflict with their peers. They also observed the students spending time with their friends to see what the interactions looked like. The research team continued to track the students over the years until taking a blood sample whenever a student turned 28. The results showed that students who handled disagreements poorly were far more susceptible to interleukin-6 than students who were able to avoid or resolve issues with their friends and classmates.
According to Allen, the research proves that parents need to not dismiss their kids when they are having problems with their friends or peers. These might seem like small issues to adults but they could have a massive effect on the health of your kid well beyond their years on the playground.
“When teens are worried about [peer conflict], that’s exactly what they should be doing. We need to take this seriously. It’s not something to be ignored,” Allen explained.