Toward an Integrated Model of Supportive Peer Relationships in Early Adolescence: A Systematic Review and Exploratory Meta-Analysis

Supportive peer relationships (SPR) are crucial for mental and physical health. Early adolescence is an especially important period in which peer influence and school environment strongly shape psychological development and maturation of core social-emotional regulatory functions. Yet, there is no integrated evidence based model of SPR in this age group to inform future research and practice. The current meta-analysis synthetizes evidence from 364 studies into an integrated model of potential determinants of SPR in early adolescence. The model encompasses links with 93 variables referring to individual (identity, skills/strengths, affect/well-being, and behavior/health) and environmental (peer group, school, family, community, and internet/technology) potential influences on SPR based on cross-sectional correlational data. Findings suggest the central importance of identity and social–emotional skills in SPR. School environment stands out as a compelling setting for future prevention programs. Finally, we underscore an alarming gap of research on the influence of the virtual and online environment on youth’s social realm given its unquestionable importance as a globally expanding social interaction setting. Hence, we propose an integrated model that can serve as organizational framework, which may ultimately lead to the adoption of a more structured and integrated approach to understanding peer relationship processes in youth and contribute to overcoming marked fragmentation in the field.

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