Changes in the Nature of Friendship

The quality and nature of friendship vary as a function of age. Children as young as two can have friends, and even twelve- to eighteen-month-olds select and prefer some children to others. Toddlers laugh, smile at, touch, and engage in more positive interactions with some peers more than others. In the preschool years cooperation and coordination in children's interactions with friends increases, and friends are more likely to engage in shared pretend play. Friends also have higher rates of conflict than non-friends, likely due to the greater amount of time they spend together. However, friends are more likely than nonfriends to resolve conflicts in ways that result in equal outcomes rather than one child winning and another losing.

In the elementary school years, interactions among friends and nonfriends show the same patterns as in the preschool years but become more sharply defined. Closeness, loyalty, and equality become important features of friendship. Friends, as opposed to acquaintances (or nonfriends), talk more to each other, cooperate, and work together more effectively. In conflicts, friends are more likely to negotiate, compromise, take responsibility for the conflict, and give reasons for their arguments.

During adolescence peers become increasingly important. Friendships evolve into more intimate, supportive, communicative relationships. Many teens become intimate friends with members of the opposite sex, usually around the time that they start dating. Social competencies such as initiating interactions, self-disclosure, and provision of support increase as preadolescents mature into early adolescents, and are related to quality of friendship. In general, during early adolescence friends begin to value loyalty and intimacy more, becoming more trusting and self-disclosing. Tolerance of individuality between close friends also increases with age, and friends' emphasis on control and conformity decreases.

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