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the role of close friends vs. wider circles of friends

March 15, 2013

Peggy C. Giordano has written:

“Researchers interested in adolescence have increasingly focused on the role of close friends (Laursen 1993a). The writings of Sullivan (1953) and recent reformulations and extensions of his original insights (Youniss 1980; Youniss and Smollar 1985) have been especially influential. Close friendships are seen as offering the adolescent some important advantages over parent-child relations because they are inherently more egalitarian and less judgmental. These features encourage the adolescent to explore identity issues under the “safeguards of trust and reciprocity” (Smollar and Youniss 1982, p. 296). Savin-Williams and Berndt (1990, pp. 278- 79) summarize Sullivan’s argument:
[‘]Such friends increase one another’s self-esteem; provide information, emotional support, and advice; and help and support one another. Friends also contribute to an evolving sense of identity, of having a place in the world. Through self-disclosure, and by allowing oneself to become vulnerable [-p.662] before a coequal, adolescent friends share with one another their most personal thoughts and feelings, become sensitive to the needs and desires of others, and, in the process, acquire a deep understanding of the other and the self.[‘]
This intimacy, according to Sullivan, has critical significance for future interpersonal relationships (including romances), and is crucial both to developing a sense of connectedness with others and individuating the self. This emphasis on close friends has provided an important counterpoint to a family-dominated view of development. But despite the centrality of these relationships in adolescents’ lives, an exclusive focus on dyads (Kandel 1978) or “the group of friends [respondents] you usually hang around with” (Giordano, Cernkovich, and Pugh 1986, p. 1183) tends to preclude consideration of other kinds of peer interactions that may be less intense but nevertheless significant in their consequences. This focus on close friends also serves to highlight such relationship qualities as reciprocity and shared values, where reality is “cooperatively co- constructed” (Youniss and Smollar 1985), while de-emphasizing issues such as boundary maintenance, asymmetry, and difference. And while some researchers have included attention to topics such as conflict and friendship loss (see, e.g., Goodwin and Goodwin 1987; Eder 1990; Shel- don 1992; Laursen 1993b), collectively this emphasis tends to sustain a view of friendships as generally positive and supportive. In this article I contrast the style and content of the communications of close friends and those in “the wider circle. ” Although youths clearly learn a great deal from their close friendships, here I focus on how interactions based on elements of distance can also be instructive-as adolescents at- tempt to forge an identity, learn about and participate in social relation- ships, and develop an understanding of a particular, situated culture.” (pp.661-662)

Ref: Peggy C. Giordano (1995) The Wider Circle of Friends in Adolescence. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 101, No. 3 (Nov., 1995), pp. 661-697

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