Notes for Adolescents and their Friends
School of Family and Consumer Sciences 400.404/504    Instructor: D. Witt

Sociology is the study of people in groups. Other than the Family, no other group is as important to individual development than ... The Peer Group.  Relative to the individual Peers are near in age, similar in behavior choices, and close at hand for ready interaction. Normal competent social development in adolescence depends on good peer relationships.

Peer Group Functions: A group of peers provides the adolescent with:
  • a source of information and social comparison (Reference Group)
  • opportunities for demonstrating competence and rehearsing roles & trying out behaviors, making them a Significant Interaction Pool.
  • models for, and reinforcement of behavior.

The Peer Groups have hierarchical structure - a "pecking order" consisting of status connected by role:

   1. consists of positions of status which are filled from the top and bottom to the middle.
   2. has a normative structure
   3. promotes frustration and competition, which fosters in-group solidarity and between-group hostility

According to studies, children interact with their peers:
  • 10% of the day around the age of 2 years.
  • 20% of the day around the age of 4 years.
  • 40% of the day between ages 7 to 11 years.
On a typical weekend, adolescents spend twice as much time with peers than their parents, generally engaging in team sports/play, companionship, socializing, and romantic attachments.

Are Peers necessary for development? Positive peer interactions have been found to reduce psychosocial outcomes (depression, self-esteem, stress) and behavioral outcomes (delinquency, alcohol, academic performance/school dropouts). Peer support/influence is also linked to adolescent’s ability to cope with stressful life events. Group formation can occur over Music, Politics, Religion, Ethnicity, or Sexual Preference.

According to J. Piaget and Harry Sullivan, the learning experience from peers are essential towards forming perspectives on the difference between right and wrong, healthy and long-term intimate relationships, Not all peer interactions are healthy - When children are cast out of peer related social groups, they generally suffer across multiple levels.

Crowds and Cliques as special Peers: Members of a CROWD interact because of common interests in activities - such as people in the audience at a rock concert or at a  movie or pep rally.  Group interest here is narrow and short lived.  CLIQUES are formed on the basis of wider similarity of interests and social ideals. Selection of a clique often involves conflict, and allegiance to a group that may overshadow personal identity and membership in formal organizations. Cliques are smaller and more intimate, and have higher cohesion.

Consequences of Peer Popularity, Rejection & Neglect:
Concepts of perspectivism - empathy, and role taking here. Popularity with peers is related (according to teens themselves): to:
    • being oneself
    • being happy
    • conforming to peer group norms
    • being friendly being enthusiastic
    • indicating concern for others as well as for oneself (not conceited or stuck up).
  • Those who are physically attractive, and intelligent, are also more popular with peers.  It has been demonstrated that peers make good tutors and models, although peers are not used systematically or extensively.
  • The Rejected and the Neglected - unsuccessful kids. avoided and unnoticed 3 C. Peer Conformity
  • Peer pressure = agreeing with expressed opinions of the group, especially in terms of dress code, habits of expression, and some behaviors.
  • Adolescents are much more likely to follow peer standards than children or adults.
  • This pressure reaches it's peak around 14 years of age and then is replaced by conformity to friends (relationship pressure).
  • Junior high students - less personal freedom than almost any other group besides convicts. Personal expression is dominated by the peer group.

CONFORMITY (to something - some idea - some group):
    • The Conformist understand and obeys expectations
    • The Nonconformist understands expectations and refuses to change personal behaviors. Truly independent.
    • The Anticonformist behaves counter to expectations. Equally as ruled by peers.
Another way to look at the conformity issue: Merton's Anomie Theory of Deviance which suggests that society expects everyone to be ambitious and hold the same life goals (success, wealth, possessions.). Society also provides "legitimate" means for the realization of goals to some folks. Conformists are the most common, followed by Ritualists, and Innovators. Retreatists are next to last - with Rebels last.

Coordinated Worlds of Parents and Peers - Increased allegiance to the peer group marks only superficial value differences with parents. It is the expression of values and not their basic content that provides grounds for conflict.  Children who have positive relationship with their parents tend to also have positive relationships with their peers. Differences between parents and adolescents are a matter of degree of agreement with value, not direction of the value itself.  The Generation Gap, in which adolescents and their parents are not communicating is really a generalization gap on the part of adults.  In reality, there is a lot of overlap in values between parents and teens.

    1. In areas where parents lack expressed conviction kids turn to peers for information about what to think
    2. Need to conform to peer group value structure varies individually.
    3. Quality of family relationships, type of family are factors.

Neglected Children.  Children who are infrequently nominated as a best friend but are not disliked by their peers.Professionals have noted that the best way to help them develop is to teach them how to be noticed by their peers.

Rejected Children.  Children who are infrequently nominated as a best friend and are actively disliked by their peers.Rejected children tend to have more serious problems later in life; more often than neglected (school dropout, delinquency, aggression).10 to 20% of these adolescents tend to be shy and withdrawn.
Professionals have noted that the best way to help these children is to develop their listening skills and sensitivity to what others are saying about them.

Controversial Children.  Children who are frequently nominated both as a best friend and as being disliked.Girls in this group were found to have a increased risk of becoming teen mothers than girls in other groups.Aggressive girls were also found to be more likely be teen mothers than non aggressive girls.

Social Cognition: Some studies suggest that there is a correlation between peer relations and social cognitive skills, much like the association between social intelligence and successful relationships in the adult world.
Socially intelligent adolescents are:

  • Children who demonstrated the ability to effectively problem-solve tasks
  • Children who were assertive and mature in interacting and problem-solving with peers
  • Children who focused less on aggression as a problem-solving method.

Cognitive/Emotional Regulation - According to Kenneth Dodge, children go through five steps in processing information about their social world: 

  1. Decoding the social cues
  2. Interpretation
  3. Response search
  4. Selecting an optimal response
  5. Enactment

Emotional Regulation - Children who can control their emotions and reduce outbursts generally tend to be more accepted by their peers.

Conglomerate Strategies for Improving Social Skills - The use of a combination of techniques rather than a single approach to improve an adolescent's social skills (which also works for adults).

Appropriate Strategies that will result in social skill development:
  • Initiate interaction - look for opportunities to make contact with others over simple topics, such as "I'm always sleepy by the time this class starts)'
  • Be nice - project a non-threatening, happy and accepting personality.
  • Pro-social behavior - learn to do some of what other's expect from nice people.
  • Respect for self and others - no gossiping, learn to empathize.
  • Provide social support - when people just want to complain a little, learn to listen without being judgmental.

Inappropriate strategies that will be contrary to social skill development:

  • Psychological aggression
  • Negative self presentation
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Bullying is a frequent occurrence in our schools and communities.  One study noted the occurrence in 30% of the sampled population.Bullied children tend to be more likely to come from  authoritarian homes.  They were found to come from families where parents were over controlling, over emotionally attached.

According to Harry Stack Sullivan, there is a significant increase in the need for friends during the period of adolescence.  Friends are essential for emotional well-being. Without playful companionship, children may become bored and depressed. Without the need for social acceptance, children will experience low self-worth
Friendship are particularly important in adolescence, and intimate friendships first emerge at this time.

  • Companionship, stimulation, physical support, ego support, social comparison, intimacy/affection. B. Intimacy and Similarity in Friendships
  • Girls have more intimate friendships than boys, and rate them more highly. Friends are usually similar in terms of age, sex, race, and attitudes, aspirations, and interests.
  • During early adolescence friendships are not as highly rated as during later adolescence. 5 Criteria for a friend - similarity of social characteristics, age school grade, sex, SES, ethnicity.
  • Best friends tend to be more similar than acquaintances in intelligence, educational aspirations, sociability, etc.
Social intelligence develops in early adolescence because of the need to have friends. Teens feel a need to understand what it takes to get along, make friends and be considered and included. Social information processing requires decoding of social cues, interpretation of cues and hints, response searches, selection of appropriate responses. Friendship patterns are related to age and sex:
    • In Early adolescence - the emphasis on superficiality (someone to have fun with.
    • Middle Adolescence- emotional intensity at its peak (just prior to dating and sexual stuff) Emphasis is on the quality of the relationship itself - a friend is one who is loyal trustworthy, one that you can share feelings with in confidence JEALOUSY PREDOMINATES.
    • Later Adolescence - the intense quality recedes and is replaced by greater independence .
Looking at friendships according to the dimensions of intimacy and perception of friendship,where:
            Intimacy = closeness, ease of communication, attachment and affection   and
            Friendship = voluntary involvement in mutual activities with one other person.

In studies college women were likely to have more integrated and intimate friends. High school boys had more friendly or uninvolved relations. Integrated relationships were likely to occur for male/female pairs in later adolescence, while boys tend not to develop these among their male friends as do girls.

Romantic Relationships: Love and Sex are mighty human needs. Although they have been co-opted by commerce to sell us a wide array of products and services, Love and Sex remain the prime motivator for major segments of our social lives.  Such a statement is much less cynical that it appears on face value.

The way it works is different for boys and girls.  The simplistic description is this:

  • Boys want sex and are willing to give love (if required) to get it.
  • Girls want love and are willing to give sex (if required) to get it.
But things are not that simple - some boys want sex AND love - some girls want love AND sex. But boys do want sex more than love and girls want just the opposite. Likely it comes down to pregnancy and child-bearing (or it used to be this way).   At any rate, our society (friends and family) are much more forgiving of males who are promiscuous than for females.

The problem for the adolescent is to find a way to legitimately get sexual needs met and not violate social ideals in the process.  Falling in love seems to be the one thing we can do to lessen the negative connotations of being sexually active.  To accomplish this, we need to date.

Precursor to Love and Romance: The Functions of Dating

  • Dating can be a form of recreation
  • Dating is a source of status and achievement
  • Dating is part of the socialization process in adolescence
  • Dating involves learning about intimacy and meaning relationships
  • Dating can be a context for sexual experimentation and exploration
  • Dating can provide companionship
  • Dating experiences contribute to identity formation and development
  • Dating can be a means of mate sorting and selection
    Incidence and Age trends
    • Most adolescents begin dating sometime between 12 and 16 years-of-age.
    • Girls are more likely than males to disclose themselves and to engage in personality exploration with a date.
    • Adolescents claim to choose dates for personality factors but the main factor is physical attraction and chances for sex (boys)
    • The number one reason for liking someone is that they like you too. (Ken - Barbie told me she thinks you are hot!) MUTUAL ADMIRATION - Consensual Validation.
  • Going Steady - Going steady means a commitment not to date others (a mini- marriage).
  • What Attracts Adolescents to Each Other Romantically - Consensual Validation, similarity of interests, same or similar social classes.
  • Roughly the same level of attractiveness or trade offs.
  • Most adolescents start dating around the age of 14 in the US, range 12-16.
  • Among Asians and Latinos, families are generally more conservative about adolescent dating
  • In US culture, parental restrictions generally result in sneak dating.

    Dating Rituals - What do parents teach us about dating?
    What do peers teach us about dating?

    Boys are generally taught to initiate.
    Girls are generally taught to be reactive.  Value the importance of courtship and innocence. 
    Is it dead or alive?

Love and Romance Among Adolescents
Keeping in mind the importance of the audience of peers (real or imagined), adolescents are drawn to early romantic relationships for purposes of role rehearsal, measures of confirmation of personal attractiveness, and the mastery of romantic competencies.  This is especially true for girls, but is true in general for all adolescents.  It is only after some level of mastery is felt by the individual that he or she moves on to goals of realizing interpersonal intimacy and attachment, and the fulfillment of sexual desire. The duration of romantic relationships in early adolescence is telling of the depth of emotion attached to the exercise. Such relationships tend to last a matter of weeks or months, often ending at convenient times of the school year.

There are types of love that have been theorized and researched about. Limerence, or love-sickness, is characterized by intrusive thinking of the other, loss of appetite, day dreaming, and unrealistic fantasies about the possibilities of the couple. This is the type of love that sometimes accompanies pop or basketball star fandom.   The feelings are often intense but are quickly extinguished, especially if the love-sick one has friends to keep them grounded. 

Affectionate love, also called companionate love, occurs when an individual wants to have another person near and has a deep, caring affection for that person - only a little stronger emotion than a very deep and abiding friendship, and is often associated with adult relationships.

Romantic love, also called passionate love or Eros, has strong sexual and infatuation components, and it often predominates in the early part of a love relationship - in both other adolescents and young adults.

One of the problems in our culture regarding love is that the concept itself has been confused with happiness, fulfillment of material wants, and personal worth. Love and sexuality, or the promise of attaining them, is associate by advertisers, politicians, and the fashion industry to sell products. First, create a feeling of unworthiness, develop an intense desire to change, and offer an easy solution.  Immature individuals have been falling victim to these techniques for decades because they work. 

What to popular music groups sing about most often? Here's a recent list of the top ten songs played on the radio: Chris Brown Forever, Katy Perry  I Kissed A Girl, Rihanna  Disturbia, Jesse McCartney  Leavin', Kardinal Offishall Featuring Akon  Dangerous, Ne-Yo  Closer, The Pussycat Dolls  When I Grow Up, Estelle Featuring Kanye West  American Boy, Jordin Sparks  One Step At A Time , Coldplay Viva la Vida. Lots of love, looking for love, getting away from love, growing up so love can be found, perfect men, love that last forever and I don't have any idea what Disurbia is.

There is a strong interaction between media outlets to motivate the sale of popular product - you see product placement all over television and movies, popular songs appear in commercials,  pop star breakfast cereal, movie stars selling "intelligent water" - all this confuses teenagers who are hard a work trying to make sense of a world that resists definition. It is unfair.

Some studies have statistically linked dating, being popular and well-adjusted state of mind. I suspect that some of these findings are attributable less to actual interpersonal well-being, and more to issues of normality, conformity, and the degree to which an individual feels close to a media-created ideal. A well-adjusted teenager who is madly in love may fail in school, where a less than well-adjusted teenager may do better in school without the pressures and time commitments of a love relationship.