Is It Important to Keep Childhood Friends?

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Some people maintain friends from childhood, and this special bond affords many benefits. After all, you knew each other through all the growing pains and through those formative years. You both experienced classes, play, and sports activities together. This special friend therefore knows your integral character.

It’s a bonus if you maintained ties throughout adulthood while you forged your mature self. But there can be drawbacks to having lifelong friends from childhood, too. There may be situations in which those friendships don’t enhance our lives or our mental health. It’s important to keep those childhood friends, but also to know when to let them go.

Positive Aspects of Maintaining Childhood Friendships

There are mental health benefits to having friends who knew you before you became a successful adult. Your peers helped shape you. You might share memories together of the town pool, math class and graduation from high school.

These friends know when you’re elated and when you’re exhausted.

Maybe your buddy encouraged you to ask out the person you were crushing on. Maybe you helped your friend learn how to drive. These memories probably form a huge part of who you are as you both experienced happy times and sad times. You shared major life events together.

You might’ve even vowed to be friends forever, no matter what happened. A childhood friendship that lasts is great because your friend knows more about you than most people will.

Health Benefits of Retaining These Friendships

In a 2021 study of 323,200 individuals from 99 different countries around the world, valuing friendship was associated with better health, greater happiness and higher levels of subjective well being across cultures.

Also, according to findings published in Psychological Science, boys who spent more time with friends as children tended to have lower blood pressure and lower BMI when they became men in their early thirties. So, time spent with friends in childhood is associated with physical health even in adulthood.

When the Bonds of Childhood Friendships are Tested

The teen years and young adulthood years are often a transformational time in our lives. With major changes, as you are remaking yourself, you may gravitate toward other people. You are testing the waters of who you want to become. Those long-term friendships might suffer the consequence.

Friends move for college and job opportunities. Then marriage and families. Sometimes you grow apart from your childhood friend or your friendship fades. You might lose touch, text and speak less often. You’re no longer sharing the everyday trials and tribulations as you used to.

Adult Friendships

A new kind of friendship, adult friendship, often takes the place of the childhood friendship. These newer confidants are experiencing your world right now—your work life, your neighborhood life, your social life, and new lifestyle. They know the adult side of you.

This can be a good thing. Now you’ve navigated your own path, perhaps in a new city. With it, you’ve found yourself a new circle to socialize with, maybe with interests more aligned with your adult self. You are making different choices. The friends you make as an adult know this adult side of you better than childhood friends from whom you may have drifted.

Sadly, life happens and sometimes old friends grow apart. What you had in common with them might’ve been getting in trouble, and you might feel it’s better to distance yourself from them. Or you might still respect that kid you've known since you were five, but you have both gone in different directions.

Negative Aspects of Having Childhood Friendships

They Can Limit Our Growth

Sometimes these friends, knowingly or unknowingly, limit our growth. Let’s say you weren’t great at academics and hit it out of the park when it came to sports in elementary school. While your brother was called “the brains,” you were labeled “the athletic one.”

Your athletic ambitions didn’t result in your becoming a star sports figure. So, you pursued a career as a personal trainer at a local fitness center. But you really want to do something else now.

Childhood friends view us in a way that might be frozen in time. That perception might stop you from being independent and moving in a different direction. Those labels may restrict you and box you in.

Maybe you even internalized the label. You therefore struggle with the confidence and the high self-esteem necessary to move into a new field.

Loyalty to Them May Threaten Your Well-Being

Sometimes your devotion undermines your wellbeing. It’s hard to let go of a friend from childhood as that seems disloyal. Based on how long you’ve been friends and that history you have together, it may not feel like it’s even an option.

Sometimes holding tight to childhood friendships means making excuses for or overlooking a friend’s reckless or seriously negative behaviors. Be sure to think about a possibly misplaced loyalty if it's damaging to your health and wellbeing.

Behaviors that might prompt you to reconsider your friendships include:

  • If your childhood friend is verbally abusive or bullying you, the friendship is no longer healthy. Blaming, gaslighting, or threatening are not acceptable behaviors from a friend.
  • If you’re avoiding getting together with the old friend or they make you feel uncomfortable, maybe you really want to move on.
  • Bullying: Is your friend placing unreasonable demands on you and showing you a lack of respect? If this lifelong friend is trying to control you and really doesn’t have your best interest as a priority, this devotion to your friendship should be questioned.
  • If your friend vents nonstop and uses guilt and manipulation, think about the toll this friendship is having on you. This friend might be interfering with your time and mentally and emotionally draining you. If you’re feeling exhausted and are trying to avoid this friend, your friend isn’t just going through a temporary tough period. You can be empathetic, but know your limits.

Losing Childhood Friends Can Be Painful

Deciding to walk away from a long-term friend you grew up with can be a big challenge. Did they forget your birthday party or are acting in a way you don’t like with others? Your friend might be stressed out by a love relationship or job. If they’re drinking excessively or taking drugs, think about the role you’re playing in this relationship.

If they’re exhibiting behaviors you don’t want to be associated with, take pause. There are solutions for stress relief. Perhaps you can help them. Or if they are unwilling, decide if you need to cease your friendship. Sometimes knowing someone for decades isn’t enough of a reason to keep your friendship alive.

Letting go of a childhood friend is especially hard. Sometimes you lose them through no choice of your own. That person is a vestige of your past life and shared precious memories with you. It might feel like losing a part of your old self.

Childhood Friends Who Are “Keepers”

A childhood friendship that last through adulthood has stood the test of time. Lifelong friends that took root in childhood care about you even when you’re most vulnerable.

They are honest with you and don't tell you what you want to hear,  but what you need to hear. It’s heartening to know this kind of friend always has your back. That level of trust is priceless.

Cherish and keep the childhood friends who live a healthy, vibrant life and who support you in a positive and balanced manner.

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  2. Cundiff JM, Matthews KA. Friends With Health Benefits: The Long-Term Benefits of Early Peer Social Integration for Blood Pressure and Obesity in MidlifePsychological Science. 2018;29(5):814-823. doi:10.1177/0956797617746510