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Purpose of Adolescent Friendships

As a child enters into their teenage years, they become more orientated around their social interactions than the family. They actively seek close friendships and friendship groups. Often the parents feel the sting of abandonment and rejection as their child no longer wants to spend as much time with them as they did the past. Questions such as “are these friends right for my child?” start to crop up and you may feel the need to try lour your child back home to safety within the family. However, friendships during this phase of development are fundamental. Here is why.

Friends become more than simply play partners, as they were during childhood; they serve as support sources and confidants. Adolescent friendships function as a source of companionship, stimulation, support, self-esteem development, social comparison and understanding, intimacy and affection.

Bukowski, Hoza, and Boivin (1994) identified five dimensions that characterize the quality of a friendship:

  1. Closeness,

  2. Companionship,

  3. Conflict,

  4. Helping, and

  5. Security.

The ‘ideal’ friendship should display higher levels of closeness, companionship, helping, and security, while displaying minimal levels of conflict. Of course the level of each will vary depending on the closeness and purpose of the friendships. Although in teenagehood there is a firm belief that is important to have a close knit group of close friends; despite whether they are good for us for not; the number of friends matters. The truth is that friendships will vary, and should vary. Some may remain close friends for years while others come and go. Some are more superficial while others are deep and meaningful. This is ok and it is important for teens to know this. That the number of friends is irrelevant as long as those that we interact with a social level add value to our lives. In terms of the five dimensions, it is important that conflict does not becoming the dominant characteristic of a friendship. We need to encourage our teens to strive for friendship quality rather than friendship quantity.

High friendship quality has been associated with several benefits such as improved self-esteem, utilizing positive coping skills, and better adjustment. Those teens with quality friendships will find it easier to cope with other challenges, feeling supported and loved regardless of the outcome. In comparison, a teen who feels alone without a social support structure is likely to find adverse situations that much more difficult to deal with.

There is asymbiotic relationship individual identity and the friendships developed. This can be constructive or destructive. In other words, an individual has specific character traits and interests, this will influence the friendships that we form as we strive to connect with people who are similar. At the same time, friendships themselves may affect the development of identity in adolescents This process is referred to as friendship socialization. As has been mentioned, identity development is the fundamental goal of teenage development. Through positive identity development, positive, healthy friendships can be achieved and vice versa. However, if a teenager is struggling with their identity development their peer group can either be a positive or negative contributor. We aim to direct our teenagers to a point where their identity does not need to be dictated by the friendships but rather a mutually beneficial relationship between individual and social identity is formed.

Here are some additional links that share further insights into the need for healthy and positive teenage friendships as well as the associated benefits.

https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/healthy-relationships/healthy-friendships/index.html

http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/friendships_teenagers.html

https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/close-friendships-in-adolescence-predict-health-in-adulthood.html

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