Youth friendships used to be written in schoolyards or playgrounds, during a birthday party or a summer camp. But with “chats” and “likes”, social networks operate on lines. How do children and teenagers define and view friendship today? From psychology to sociology, researchers are trying to break the “laws of friendship” in this series. In this first episode, a look back at the importance of friendship in teenagers.
Adolescence is a period of individual change that presents many adaptation challenges for the adolescent, but also for those around him. It covers about a decade starting from entering college. At this stage when time spent with family members gradually decreases in favor of peer relationships, friendship plays a major role.
It is the result of a reciprocal feeling of affection or sympathy that is not based on blood relations or sexual attraction and is expressed through a voluntary closeness between two people who share each other.
During development, its understanding became more and more sophisticated. Adolescents define their best friend in terms of mutual reciprocity and compromise, emphasizing sharing common interests, striving to understand each other, and engaging in intimate self-disclosure. The attitudes of teenagers with their friends are shown through altruistic acts, generosity, cooperation, collaboration and resolving conflicts to maintain the relationship.
While friendships serve important adaptive functions and protect adolescents from the harmful effects of stress, research suggests that they can also be dysfunctional and create negative effects, which require care. of parents and teachers.
In this important period marked by the conquest of autonomy, friendships contribute to the emotional security and support of individuals, they provide affection and opportunities for trust, as well as they help them in their search for self-exploration and formation at birth. Initial dyadic (pair) experiences also allow adolescents to acquire the social skills necessary to be accepted by their peers.
Read more: How do children choose their friends?
Once the teenagers are accepted by their peers, a variety of different groups are formed, where members have the opportunity to explore how a team works. Thus they learn the qualities necessary for effective action in a collective context: social skills in a game of more complex interrelations, the sharing of common goals and cooperation.
However, things are not simple. It turns out that 25% of teenagers don’t have peers that they identify as friends. The consequences of a long-term loss of friendly relationships in adolescents are also often associated with withdrawal and aggression.
Regarding the functions and issues related to friendship in youth, it is important to ask ourselves about the contexts and determinants that favor the emergence of friendly relationships.
The influence of relationships with parents
Friendship relationships appear in a socio-cultural context that provides opportunities for contact and intimacy. So teenagers become friends with those they often meet in their class, in their neighborhood, in their extracurricular activities. From there, they empathize with peers who are similar to them in terms of interests and abilities.
Read more: Separation from parents to growth: what margin for teenagers in a connected world?
Although teenagers practice social skills to build and maintain a satisfying friendship, mastering some skills first makes things easier. In fact, the abilities to initiate a relationship, to make appropriate self-disclosure, to provide emotional support, and to engage in problem solving are strongly related to the quality of friendships during the youth.
A teenager’s relationship with his parents is also decisive at this stage of life when parental support influences the quality of relationships with peers. Closeness between parents and adolescents is particularly associated with better self-esteem and more satisfying social relationships. Conversely, lack of parental involvement is associated, in adolescents, with poor peer relationships.
Interestingly, Flynn and his colleagues showed that the nature of friendship between adolescents significantly reflects the image of their relationships with their parents for three types of behavior: hostile, warm and solution-oriented to the problem.
To measure these characteristics, the researchers asked the teenagers about the frequencies of their parents criticizing or even insulting them, understanding the behaviors, and listening to the teen’s ideas. how to solve problems and solve problems. The results showed that a hostile, warm and/or problem-solving oriented relationship with parents at the beginning of fifth grade predicted the observed interaction with a close friend the following year.
In other words, adolescents recreate in their friendship interactions the original styles of hostility, support, and problem solving experienced with their own parents. Specifically, teenagers with supportive mothers seem to imitate this behavior in their friends and ultimately have more satisfying friendships.
Adolescents whose fathers are helpful and supportive in problem solving imitate these skills in their friends and are able to form more rewarding friendships. Finally, teenagers whose parents are hostile also replicate this negative behavior with their friends and the quality of their friendships deteriorates.
An evolutionary force
Friendship is a powerful force in adolescence, influencing many dimensions of young people’s lives, such as their academic performance, their mental health, and their prosocial and antisocial behavior.
There are many positive effects of friendship. Quality friendships are primarily related to self-esteem and emotional well-being. They also protect teenagers from the negative effects of stressful events, thus reducing the risk of social anxiety and depression. Finally, good quality friendships can help alleviate the harmful effects of family problems.
The characteristics of the friend are very important. The attitudes and interaction styles of friend(s) can really influence the course of adolescent development. Therefore, friends with more positive attitudes can influence teenagers in a virtuous way. In a recent study, Miklikowska et al. (2022), showed that adolescents who have empathic friends become more empathetic themselves over time. Other researchers have shown that teenagers’ school grades improve if they start the year with friends who have good results, as long as the friendship is there.
Read more: Developing empathy: some keys to help children open up to diversity
On the contrary, many studies show that young people whose friends have disruptive and aggressive behaviors may, in turn, become more disruptive and aggressive over time.
Interestingly, some friendships can be double-edged in the sense that their effects can be both positive and negative. Therefore, by responding to the need for acceptance and association, friendship can prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation even in situations where friends can influence the level of adolescent deviance.
Similarly, in shared situations, feelings of closeness and cooperation may benefit adolescents in the short term, but have a negative counterpart in the longer term. During co-ruminations, friends share their problems and change them tirelessly in more and more detail. Over time, healing problems are followed by a devastating increase in anxiety and depression.
In these two cases, the benefits of satisfying a short-term social need are associated with the risk of adopting habits that are not suitable for contact with a friend.
In conclusion, teenagers give a lot of value and time to their friends who play an important role in their development. However, careful involvement of parents is still important in this context. The warm support and participation of parents in solving the problem contributes especially to the emergence of fulfilling friendships for their teenagers.