As suggested by important developmental theorists like Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Harry Stack Sullivan, friends provide emotional support, validation and confirmation of the legitimacy of one's own thoughts and feelings, and opportunities for the development of important social and cognitive skills. Children with friends are less likely to feel lonely, and friendships provide a context for the development of social skills and knowledge that children need to form positive relationships with other people.
In general, having friends is associated with positive developmental outcomes, such as social competence and adjustment. For example, young children's initial attitudes toward school are more positive if they begin school with a large number of prior friends as classmates. Exchanges with friends also promote cognitive development. This is because children are more likely to criticize each other's ideas and to elaborate and clarify their own thoughts with friends than nonfriends or adults. Children also benefit from talking and working together, and older friends often act as mentors for younger children. Friendships serve as a buffer against unpleasant experiences, like peer victimization and teasing from other children. Because friendships fill important needs for children, it might be expected that having friends enhances children's long-term social and emotional health. In fact, having a close, reciprocated best friend in elementary school has been linked to a variety of positive psychological and behavioral outcomes for children, not only during the school years but also years later in early adulthood. This is especially true if children's friendships are positive and do not have many negative features.
In summary, the nature of friendship changes as children grow, and friendship plays an important role in development. As children mature, friends rely on each other and increasingly provide a context for self-disclosure and intimacy. Adolescent friends, more than younger friends, use friendships as a context for self-exploration, problem solving, and a source of honest feedback. Friendship is important in healthy growth and development, and children with close friendships reap the benefits of these relationships well into adulthood.
See also: SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT Bibliography
Bukowski, William, Andrew Newcomb, and Willard Hartup, eds.
The Company They Keep: Friendship in Childhood and Adolescence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Piaget, Jean. The Moral Judgment of the Child. New York: Free Press, 1965.
Rubin, Kenneth, William Bukowski, and Jeffrey Parker. "Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups.'' In William Damon ed. Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol. 3: Social, Emotional, and Personality Development, 5th edition, edited by Nancy Eisenberg. New York: Wiley, 1998.
Savin-Williams, Ritch, and Thomas Berndt. "Friendship and Peer Relations.'' In Shirley Feldman and Glen Elliot eds., At the
Threshold: The Developing Adolescent. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990. Sullivan, Harry. The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. New York: Norton, 1953.
Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978. Youniss, James, and Jacqueline Smollar. Adolescent Relations with Mothers, Fathers, and Friends. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.
Amanda Sheffield Morris Nancy Eisenberg
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