The Important Role of Friendship in Adolescence
Friendship in adolescence has a basic function. Humans need to feel that they “fit in.” This need becomes more urgent during adolescence.
Adolescents who have a hard time establishing friendships often have school, self-esteem, and self-concept issues, as well as possible emotional disorders in adulthood.
Personality in adolescence
“Adolescence is a stage that has been progressively prolonged, during which fast and big changes occur, that lead human beings to become biologically, psychologically, and socially mature, and potentially able to live independently.”
– Veronica Gaete –
Adolescents are in a constant state of indecision during which they explore various alternatives, unable to follow through with any of them. This leads them to adopt suggested or imposed beliefs until they find those they really identify with.
Adolescence can be divided into three stages:
- Early (ages 10-13). This stage is characterized by egotism. Thus, teens will either believe that no one can understand them due to their “special” way of seeing and acting in life or they may feel they’re the center of attention, acting according to what they think others expect of them.
- Middle (ages 14-17). In this period, individualism becomes more obvious. Teens spend more time alone. They have risk awareness but tend to seek out new experiences, primarily within their peer group. During this time, they start worrying about other people’s emotions and feelings.
- Late (from age 18). At this stage, personality develops. This is the result of the experienced process.
The role of friendship in adolescence
At the beginning of adolescence, a period of rebellion begins and teens begin to set themselves apart from their family. Thus:
- Their peer group becomes more important to them.
- They’ll question the limits imposed by their parents, since they’ll realize that their parents aren’t perfect.
- Also, they begin to seek an exclusive friendship. The “best friend” figure emerges.
- Teens idealize their peers.
- A certain pressure to belong to a group arises.
- Relationships become intense, especially those involving people of the same sex.
As adolescence progresses, the need to identify with their peer group intensifies. Thus, the greatest influence the adolescent receives comes from their social circle, in both a positive and a negative sense. Therefore, they adopt the group’s identity, straying from what was familiarly established:
- Groups are composed of both sexes.
- Couples begin to establish.
- Friends become the most important example.
- The most contentious period with their parents may begin.
In the last stage, their personality integrates. This will depend on their experiences and obtained support (both family and social). Friendship at the end of adolescence is characterized by a loss of influence. Thus:
- Firstly, individual personality consolidates.
- Friendships are more selective; teens focus more on quality than quantity.
- Also, the link with their parents strengthens.
Sexuality during adolescence
In the first stage of adolescence, teens are greatly concerned over their appearance and the changes that are happening in their bodies. They need to know that what’s happening to them is normal, which is why they compare themselves to others. Also, their sex drive increases, as well as the need to experiment and define their gender role.
In the next stage, teens accept their new body, which is why they start needing to experiment sexually. Also, they start flirting and begin relationships, which can be romanticized.
In the final stage, love relationships tend to become more intimate and stable. They’re based on shared interests and similar values.
Parents and friendship in adolescence
Research has evidenced the qualities that parents should have so that their children don’t stray from them during adolescence:
- Parents should let their teens know that they love them and respect their decisions, although they may not agree with some of them.
- Also, they need to set appropriate limits according to their age. Their rules must be clear and reasonable.
- Parents should recognize when their teenage children make an effort, reinforcing and complimenting them. In addition, parents should offer their support during situations that get the best of them, even if they may not seem to be a big deal.
- Also, they need to set an example and be responsible.
- Parents have to facilitate exposure to new experiences.
- Another important thing is that parents should be concerned about their teen’s friends (and their parents). This implies knowing and spending time with them, in a way that isn’t intrusive. Thus, they should talk about them and about friendship. Also, parents of teens need to be good friends to them.
- Likewise, they have to accept that friends influence their children, but that they’re the ones who finally decide. Raising teens right will prevent surprises. This entails teaching them to avoid compromising situations.
- Parents should allow them to go out with their friends, even with those they’re unsure of. However, they should clarify why some of their friends generate distrust.