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Using questions to help kids build friendships – News

Middle school students Carissa Semagna (left) and Mackenzie Malotte work together on the Peer Builder Program led by Dr. Leslie Echols of Missouri State University.

Is there an effective way to strengthen friendships between teens and teens?

Yes, according to a recent study by psychologist Dr. Leslie Echols of Missouri State University and Dr. Jared Ivanish of the University of Colorado.

Engage in meaningful questions and answers

The researchers carried out a 36-question activity known as Fast Friends at a local middle school. About 300 students in seventh and eighth grades were paired up with a same-sex partner they did not know well or did not consider a friend.

In addition, about half of the students were paired with a partner of the same race, while the other half had partners of a different gender.

“I wanted to see if cross-racial friendships could be stimulated as easily as friendships of the same race,” said Echols, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University. “The literature has suggested that making interracial friendships is a little more difficult, so I wanted to empirically test this question.”

Partners took turns answering the questions in two sessions. They spent time asking and answering questions that became more personal and required more vulnerability.

In the third session, each pair engaged in the task of building a tower together to achieve a common goal.

According to Echols, the questions started with basic facts, like favorite foods, favorite places to eat in town, favorite gifts you’ve received, and the worst haircut ever.

Personal questions included things like, “What would you do differently than your parents did?” and “Are there things that you don’t agree with in the way you were raised?”

“The conversations were very interesting. Most of the students shared a lot of personal details about their lives and discovered a lot of things they had in common that they didn’t realize before,” said Echols.

Read the full text of Part 1

Read the full text of Part 2

New friends created

At the end of the study, the results showed that the partners felt closer to each other. Students considered the Fast Friends partner to be more of a friend than any other student with whom they had not interacted in the activity.

It also seems that the Q&A missions increase closeness and friendship more than building a tower.

“There is a great deal of strength in the question-and-answer activity,” said Echols. “It is surprising how little opportunities for children and young people to interact with each other if they have not been part of the same group of friends for a long time. And I think the questions themselves were fundamental as they moved on to more personal topics.”

The most surprising and positive finding was that friendships across races were as likely to be formed through Fast Friends activities as the same race.

“There were no differences in the increases. I wasn’t expecting that, so it was exciting,” said Echols.

Echols will implement this Fast Friends exercise in schools where she is currently working on interventions to combat peer abuse.

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