As children emerge into adolescence, many changes take place. One of the most turbulent and rewarding experiences during early adolescence changes in friendships. Primarily during elementary school, children tend to have friends based on prosocial behavior, peers that help them do things and based on play and association, peers that play with them after school, at the pool or in the neighborhood. Friends based on prosocial behavior and play/association for all ages of people but elementary school friends are completely based on these foundations.
A dramatic increase occurs in children’s relationships in friends from around 3rd grade to 6th grade. Children’s relationships become more intimate as they trust friends and tell them secrets. Secondly, children’s relationships are increasingly based on loyalty, or who will stick up for them in a fight. As children get older, there is a greater value on intimacy and loyalty in addition to shared values and attitudes. These changes occur because adolescents have a greater ability to think about abstract concepts such as intimacy and loyalty, so judgments are more sophisticated, more psychological and less tied to concrete attributes than younger children.
For parents that have experience with sons and daughters may notice differences in the types of friendships they have with their peers. Boys have friendships that are more oriented toward shared activities while girls have friendships that are an explicit satisfaction of emotional needs. In general adolescent males have a more subtle development of intimacy and are more likely to bond with friends while playing baseball than by telling each other about their secret crush.
Females have more advanced ways to express intimacy with their female friends. They are more likely to have self-disclosure, be more sensitive and empathetic than boys when comforting distressed friends and are more collaborative.
As males enter adolescence, their conflicts with male friends are typical shorter than girls fighting with each other. Male conflicts are also typically over issues of power and may result in physical aggression and then “letting things slide”. Adolescent females are more likely to have longer conflicts, which are typically due to some form of betrayal in the relationship and resolved when one girl apologizes to the other.
Overall, it is important for parents to be aware of the differences in friendships between males and females during early adolescence, as well as how friendships change in general. From 3rd grade on through 8th grade, children enter adolescence and have friendships that are based more on intimacy and loyalty. This changes their relationship style, how they resolve conflicts and the relationships they have with their parents or other caregivers. These are important changes to be aware of and to understand.
This information is based on an advanced college adolescent development course and references the following textbook:
Steinberg, L.D. (2004). Adolescence. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.