Niobe Way Bronwyn E Becker Melissa L Greene


Theory and research have repeatedly underscored the importance of friendships in satisfying adolescents' desire for intimacy; enhancing their interpersonal skills, sensitivity, and understanding; and contributing to their cognitive and social development and psychological adjustment (Crockett, Losoff, & Petersen, 1984; Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984; Hartup, 1996; Savin-Williams & Berndt, 1990). During adolescence, the significance of friendships becomes even more paramount as adolescents begin to spend increased time with their friends (Crockett et al., 1984). However, despite the fact that friendships appear critical for all adolescents (Hinde, 1987; Patterson, Dishion, & Yoerger, 2000; Sherer, 1991), few studies have examined these processes among ethnic minority adolescents. Indeed, the vast majority of research on friendships has been conducted with White, middle-class adolescents, raising questions about the generalizability of findings to ethnic minority and/or poor and working class adolescents.

Such oversight is not trivial, considering that by the year 2050, it is estimated that "ethnic minorities" as a group will no longer be numerical minorities in the United States and that even at present, 32% of the population in the United States is Black, Latino, or Asian American. Furthermore, although Latinos represent the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group in the United States and are expected to make up nearly a quarter of the population by 2050 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004), the small body of research that has explored friendships among ethnic minority adolescents has focused almost exclusively on Black adolescents. Accordingly, given the rapidly changing ethnic and racial composition of the adolescent population in the U.S. and the increasing significance of friendships during childhood and adolescence (Gavin & Furman, 1989; O'Brian & Bierman, 1988), understanding the experiences of friendships among Black, Latino, and Asian American adolescents becomes critical.

To date, a few researchers have examined friendships among ethnic minority youth (e.g., Cauce, 1986; Cote, 1996; Dubois & Hirsch, 1990; Hamm, 2000). These studies have tended to be comparative in nature striving to detect ethnic/racial differences in the characteristics or quality of friendships between Black adolescents and their White counterparts (Hagan & Conley, 1994). Research on friendship characteristics has typically examined the extent to which African American and European American youth have cross-ethnic/racial friends and has shown that, particularly during adolescence, both ethnic minority and majority youth often seek friends from their own ethnic/racial group (Shrum, Cheek, & Hunter, 1987; Zisman & Wilson, 1994). Other studies have revealed differences in the characteristics of African American and European American adolescents' friendships, with findings showing African American youth more likely to report having best friends from their neighborhoods and European American adolescents more likely to indicate having school-based best friends (Clark & Ayers, 1991; DuBois & Hirsch, 1990).

Research on the quality of friendships among ethnic minority youth has focused primarily on gender and ethnic differences in friendship support and intimacy across and within ethnic minority and majority groups. These studies have typically found gender differences in levels of support in friendships among European American adolescents but not among African American youth (DuBois & Hirsch, 1990). Moreover, ethnic differences in levels of friendship intimacy have also been suggested with African American boys reporting higher levels of intimacy with their male friends than European American boys (Jones, Costin, & Ricard, 1994). Taken as a whole, extant literature showing both commonalities and differences in the friendships of European American and African American youth underscores the need for further exploration of friendships among ethnically diverse groups of adolescents, and draws attention to the problem of making generalizations about friendships solely from the experiences of European American adolescents.

In our own research over the past decade, we have conducted mixed methods longitudinal studies on the development of friendships among Black, Latino, and Asian American high school students from low-income families living in urbant contexts. These studies, like those mentioned in the previous paragraph, have examined gender and ethnic differences in the characteristics and quality of friendships. However, the crux of our research has taken a more ecological approach to the study of friendships than is typical of the literature, examining the ways in which contexts such as families, schools, and neighborhoods shape the quality of friendships among ethnic minority adolescents.

The primary goal of this chapter is to describe key themes in our research and how these themes relate to other studies on adolescent friendships. The chapter begins with a review of the ecological framework in which our work is embedded. Following this discussion, we detail the methods we employed to investigate the development of friendships among ethnic minority youth. Next, we describe our findings regarding contextual-level predictors (i.e., family, school, and neighborhood) of friendships among adolescents. We then discuss our research on the characteristics and quality of friendships among ethnic minority adolescents. Although our focus is on ethnic minority youth, whenever relevant, we also briefly review what is known regarding contextual-level predictors, characteristics, and quality of friendships among ethnic majority youth in an attempt to highlight potential similarities and differences among ethnic minority and majority adolescents. We conclude the chapter with recommendations for further exploration of the friendship experiences of adolescents from a diverse range of racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds.


Our work on friendship is grounded in an ecological understanding of human development (Bron-fenbrenner, 1979, 1989). An ecological framework draws attention to the adolescent's immediate developmental milieu, interrelations among major settings, and specific social structures that exert indirect influence on proximal environments in which the adolescent lives. Considering that the child exists within multiple intersecting and overlapping contexts that determine what is adaptive or normative, the various levels (child, relationships, and settings) of the ecological system should not be considered in isolation from one another.

Over the past decade, there has been a surge of research directed at understanding the ways in which multiple settings or contexts influence child development (Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, Klebanov, & Sealand, 1993; Burton, Allison, & Obeidallah, 1995; Seidman, 1991). This research has indicated that contexts such as families, peers, schools, and neighborhoods exert an important influence on adolescent development, with each context influencing the ways in which adolescents experience other contexts. For example, how an adolescent experiences high school is influenced not only by the type of school attended previously, but also by the attitude his/her family has toward school, the perceived safety of the neighborhood, and the quality of peer relations in school (Epstein & Karweit, 1983). Exploring the ways in which each of these contexts shape the experience of other contexts allows for a greater understanding of the processes that shape adolescent development (Phelan, Yu, & Davidson, 1994). Yet little attention has been paid to how contexts, settings, or sets of relationships influence each other. This gap is evident throughout the research on adolescent development but is particularly true for research on friendships. Although an ecological framework has become almost de rigueur in some areas of psychological research, such model has rarely been employed in research on adolescent friendship (exceptions include Crosnoe, Cavanagh, & Elder, 2003).

Our work is also grounded in the belief that subjective experience is a large part of what truly matters in studies of human development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Lewin, 1951). How a child or adolescent perceives his or her world is a fundamental component of his or her development. Disregarding adolescents' own experiences of their environments leads to an inadequate understanding of adolescents or of the environments in which they exist. For example, our research has suggested that although schools on the outside may appear hostile or supportive, they are not necessarily perceived as such by the adolescents themselves. This discrepancy has direct implications for understanding the effects of those environments on adolescent development. Thus, in our research on friendships, we focus in particular on how adolescents themselves perceive their friendships and other contextual-level variables such as family relationships, school climate, and neighborhood cohesion.

OUR RESEARCH Goals and Method

We have conducted two longitudinal, mixed methods research projects over the past decade focusing on the following three sets of questions: (1) What are the characteristics and quality of friendships among ethnic minority, low-income, urban adolescents and how do the characteristics and quality of their friendships vary by gender, ethnicity, and age?; (2) What are the ways in which adolescents' perceptions of family relationships, school and neighborhood climate (i.e., contextual-level predictors) shape adolescents' perceptions of the quality of their friendships?; and (3) Are these patterns moderated by ethnicity or gender? In our research we distinguish between closest friends and friends in general as adolescents themselves are known to make sharp distinctions between these types of friendships (Newcomb & Bagwell, 1996; Shulman, 1993; Way, 1998) and the associated correlates vary depending on the type of relationship to which the adolescent is referring (Harter, 1990; Reyes, Goyette, & Bishop, 1996; Robinson, 1995; Way & Pahl, 2001). Closest friends refer to those whom the adolescent feels closest (i.e., best friends), while friends in general refer to a large array of friends, some of whom may not be close.

Data collection involved administering standardized measures and semi-structured interviews with urban, ethnic minority, low-income adolescents each year, over a 4- or 5-year period (depending on the study), beginning in the first year of high school. Intensive participant observation over a 4- or 5-year period was also conducted. Each study was conducted in a public high school located in a low-income neighborhood in New York City and was successful in recruiting 86-95% of the freshman population during the first year. Our recruitment effort resulted in sample sizes that ranged from 213 (study 1) to 225 (study 2) for the quantitative component. The qualitative component of each study involved interviewing a total of 242 adolescents (132 in study 1 and 110 in study 2) during their freshman year; adolescents were re-interviewed each year of high school. The interview sample was selected based on our goal of having a representative sample of girls, boys, Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans that reflected the student body in each of the schools. For both the quantitative and qualitative component, we had at least a 60% retention rate over a 4- or 5-year period depending on the study, which is typical of longitudinal studies of low-income, urban adolescents (see Seidman, 1991). It is important to note, however, that we had a 90-96% retention rate in both schools among those participants who remained in the school during the study. Those adolescents who were retained for our studies did not differ on any of our demographic variables from those who were not retained.


The mean age of the respondents at Time 1 was 14.33 (Study 1) and 14. 21 (Study 2). The vast majority (over 90%) of participants in both studies identified themselves as Black (almost exclusively African American), Latino (primarily Puerto Rican and Dominican) or Asian American (almost exclusively Chinese American). These ethnic groups are reflective of the dominant ethnic groups in the schools in which we collected the data. The majority of the students (80-90%) in each of the two schools were eligible for federal assistance through the free or reduced-price lunch program.


Students were recruited from "mainstream" English classes (not from bilingual English classes) in order to assure English fluency for the qualitative component of the interview. Approximately 90% of the students in both schools were registered in mainstream English classes. For all waves of data collection, adolescents were required to return signed parental consent forms that were in English, Spanish, or Chinese. The questionnaires and one-to-one, semi-structured interviews in both studies were administered during English classes, free periods, lunch periods, or after school. Questionnaires took approximately 90 minutes to complete (two class periods) and the interviews were approximately 90 minutes to 120 minutes depending on the year of the assessment (the longer interviews took place during the latter years of the studies). Ethnically diverse research assistants who had been extensively trained in interviewing techniques administered both questionnaires and interviews. Participants were paid $5.00 to complete the questionnaires and $10.00 to complete the interviews in Year 1; each participant received an additional $5.00 for participating in each new wave of data collection (Times 2, 3, and 4).


All measures employed in our research have been used with ethnically and socioeconomically diverse urban populations and have been found to have good to excellent internal reliability and external validity (Buhrmester, 1990; Way & Chen, 2000; Way, Cowal, Gingold, Pahl, & Bissessar, 2001; Whee-lock & Erickson, 1996).

For the assessment of the quality of closest same-sex friendship and the quality of relationships with mother and father, we used a 20-item version of Furman and Buhrmester's (1985) Network of Relationships Inventory. This measure investigates multiple dimensions of relationship quality (i.e., intimacy, affection, reliable alliance, satisfaction, companionship, conflict and antagonism) using a 5-point Likert Scale. The "positive" dimensions (i.e., intimacy, affection, reliable alliance, satisfaction, and companionship) were highly correlated with each other and thus, for the purposes of our study, were summed into one score that represented overall support. Our decision to combine these five dimensions into one score is based on previous research that indicates that the positive dimensions on the NRI comprise one factor (Gavin & Furman, 1996). To investigate the quality—overall level of perceived support—of general friendships and family relationships, we relied on The Perceived Social Support Scale for Family and Friends (PSS-FA Procidano & Heller, 1983). The Network of Relationships Inventory is focused on particular dyadic relationships (i.e., closest friend, mother, or father) while the Perceived Social Support Scale is focused on relationships more generally (i.e., friends in general and family members).

Adolescents' perceptions of the climate of their school was assessed using a shortened version of the School Climate Scale (Haynes, Emmons, & Comer, 1993). This measure examines three dimensions (teacher/student relationships, student/student relationships, and order/safety) of school climate on a 5-point Likert scale. To investigate adolescents' perceptions of their neighborhood, we used on the Neighborhood Cohesion Scale (Adolescent Pathways Project, 1992), which assesses perceptions of neighborhood safety, cohesion, and satisfaction using a 4-point Likert scale.

Interview Protocol

In order to explore adolescents' experiences of friendships, family relationships, schools, and neighborhoods, one-to-one, semi-structured interviews were conducted each year with adolescents over a 4- to 5-year period. The interview protocol included questions regarding general descriptions (e.g., tell me about your relationships with your best friend?) as well as more specific probes (e.g., in what ways do you trust your best friend?). Each interview, during Times 2, 3, and 4, began with the following question: "What has changed for you over the past year?" This question allowed us to better understand adolescent responses during the remainder of the interview. Although each interview included a standard set of questions, follow-up probes and questions allowed us to capture the adolescents' own ways of describing their friendships.

Data Analysis

Data analysis of our quantitative data involved methods ranging from Hierarchical Regression Analysis to Growth Curve modeling (see Rogosa & Willett, 1985; Willett, Singer, & Martin, 1998). For our qualitative data, we used analytic techniques such as Narrative summaries (Miller, 1991), conceptually clustered matrices (Miles & Huberman, 1995), and the Listening Guide (Brown, Tappan, Gilligan, Miller, & Argyris, 1989).


The Family Context

Family/Parental Support

Research on the links between the quality of relationships with family members and with peers has been based primarily on attachment and/or social support theories (Updegraff et al., 2001) and has typically found the quality of family relationships to be positively associated with the quality of friendships (Greenberg, Siegel, & Leitch, 1983; Kerns, 1994; Kerns & Stevens, 1996; Procidano & Smith, 1997; Youngblade, Park, & Belsky, 1993). According to attachment theorists, children internalize their parents' responsiveness toward them in the form of internal working models of the self (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). These internal working models in turn influence non-familial relationships, as children provided with security, warmth, and trust are more likely than others to seek out and experience similar qualities in their relationships with their peers (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987; Greenberg et al., 1983; Kerns & Stevens, 1996; Sroufe & Waters, 1977). Attachment theorists also emphasize the enduring and stable nature of attachment styles, showing significant associations between current parent attachment and peer relationships (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987; Cauce, Mason, Gonzales, Hiraga, & Liu, 1996).

In a similar vein, social support theorists also maintain that a positive association exists between adolescents' perceived support from families and from friends (Procidano, 1992; Procidano & Smith, 1997). In the social support literature, perceived family support is generally understood as the extent to which adolescents feel they can depend on family for advice, guidance, and emotional support.

When a child's need for support is met at home, that child will likely experience others outside of the home as supportive as well (Bartholomew, Cobb, & Poole, 1997; Sarason, Pierce, & Sarason, 1990).

Although the vast majority of attachment and social support-based research has been focused on European American adolescents, a few studies have examined the links between parent-child closeness and adolescent friendships among ethnic minority youth as well (see Cote, 1996; Updegraff et al., 2001). This research has suggested that the association between parent and peer relationships varies as a function of culture, race/ethnicity, and/or gender. For example, using a sample of early adolescents from Latino and European American families, Updegraff and her colleagues (2002) examined adolescents' experiences with their mothers, fathers, and best friends and found both mother and father acceptance to be significantly linked to friendship intimacy among European American adolescents. For Latino adolescents, however, only mother acceptance was related to friendship intimacy.

In our own research on family and friendship support among ethnic minority youth, we have found patterns that are both consistent and inconsistent with previous findings (Way, 1998; Way & Chen, 2000; Way, Greene, & Pahl, 2004; Way & Pahl, 2001). Similar to Updegraff and her colleagues (2002), our longitudinal analyses showed that over a one-year period, father support was unrelated to friendship support among Latino, Black, and Asian American adolescents. However, perceived support from mothers at Time 1 was significantly associated with change over time in the quality of both general and closest friendship support (Way & Pahl, 2001). These findings extend the significance of mother support to other ethnic minority groups (e.g., African American and Asian American). Strikingly, though, adolescents who reported the least amount of support from their mothers at Time 1 showed the sharpest increases over time in reported levels of support from friends. Although one might interpret such findings as a "ceiling effect" (i.e., those adolescents who reported initial high scores had less room to grow over time than those who initially reported low scores), the analysis indicated that there was no concurrent association between mother and friendship support. In other words, adolescents who reported the lowest mother support were not necessarily the same adolescents who reported the lowest levels of friendship support. Although the increase over time in friendship support was significantly sharper among adolescents reporting the lowest levels of mother support, the mean level of friendship support was not the lowest among these groups. In fact, the mean level of friendship support at Time 2 for those who reported the lowest mother support at Time 1 was significantly higher than the mean levels of friendship support at Time 2 for those who reported the highest mother support at Time 1 (see Figure 17.1). These patterns suggest a compensatory rather than a "ceiling" effect.

Growth curve analyses examining the dynamic associations between perceptions of family support1 and general and closest friendship quality over a 5-year period showed that improvements over time in reports of family support were significantly associated with improvements over time in levels of general and closest friendship support (Way & Greene, in press). In addition, similar to what we found in our analysis of two waves of data (Way & Pahl, 2001), adolescents who reported lower mean levels of family support (averaged over time) experienced sharper improvements in general friendship quality over a 5-year period than those adolescents with higher mean levels of family support. These associations were robust across grade and ethnicity.

Thus, our longitudinal analyses provide evidence for both attachment-like and compensatory-like patterns between family and friendships. Attachment-like associations were indicated in the growth curve findings showing that an increase over time in perceptions of family support were significantly associated with an increase over time in perceptions of friendship support. Compensatory patterns were apparent in the findings suggesting that those adolescents who reported lower mother or family support revealed sharper increases over time in perceptions of friendship support than those who reported higher mother or family support (Way & Greene, in press; Way & Pahl, 2001). Although these findings seem contradictory, they are consistent with much of what we know about the development of relationships. Overall, improvements in one type of relationship (i.e., family members) may be associated with improvements in another type of relationship (i.e., friends). However, the sharpest










-High Mother Support - Low Mother Support


Figure 17.1 Change in general friendship support over time as a function of mother support at Time 1.

improvements may be seen in those relationships (i.e., friends) that compensate for the lack of support in other relationships (see also Cicchetti, Lynch, Shonk, & Manly, 1992).

To further explore the prevalence of these attachment-like and compensatory-like relationships, we conducted a cluster analysis of perceived mother, father, and friendship support. Our findings indicated that adolescents are as likely to report compensatory-like patterns (e.g., high friendship support and low mother and father support) as attachment-like patterns (e.g., high mother, father, and friend support; Williams, 20042). Given the dearth of longitudinal research on the association between family relationships and friendships among adolescents in general, it is impossible to know the extent to which our findings regarding the presence of both attachment- and compensatory-like patterns among ethnic minority youth are particular to the population under investigation. The existing research on family and friend relationships emphasizes attachment models of relationships, rarely considering compensatory effects or attempting to integrate the two models of relationships. Our research underscores the importance of considering both theoretical models.

Parental Monitoring, Attitudes, and Rules

In addition to studies examining the association between the quality of family support and peer relationships, a growing body of research based on social learning theories has examined the links between parental attitudes and adolescent friendships. According to social learning theorists, children acquire the requisite skills for friendships through modeling and observational learning (Mischel, 1966). Such research has primarily focused on issues of parental monitoring, examining how parental monitoring at home influences the quality and characteristics of peer relationships (Brown, Mounts, Lamborn, & Steinberg, 1993; Fuligni & Eccles, 1993; Snyder & Hoffman, 1990). Findings from these studies have suggested that there is a clear association between the extent of parental monitoring and a range of adolescent outcomes including involvement with deviant peers (Ary, Duncan, Duncan, & Hops, 1999; Snyder, Dishion, & Patterson, 1986) and, positive peer contact (Brown et al., 1993; Mounts, 2001). The degree of parental monitoring has also been related to friendship development, with the two extremes of monitoring—excessively high and excessively low—being shown to interfere with children's abilities to establish friendships (Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984). Our survey-

based research with ethnic minority youth has found parental monitoring to be significantly related to the perceived quality of closest and general friendships among youth. Adolescents who reported their parents as knowing their whereabouts, what they are doing after school, how they spend their money, and where they are during the day and evening hours, reported having more supportive closest friendships and general friendships (Rosenbaum, 20 003).

Parental guidance, or the degree to which parents directly assist adolescents with making friends, has also been examined. Vernberg and colleagues (1993), for example, documented various strategies used by parents to help their seventh- and eighth-grade children develop friendships after moving to a new school district, such as meeting with other parents, facilitating proximity to peers, talking with their adolescent children about peer relationships, and encouraging their children to participate in activities with other adolescents. More recently, in a study of Latino and European American adolescents and their parents, Updegraff and colleagues (2001) reported that parents—mothers in particular—often got to know and spent time with their children' friends as a way to influence these relationships. Mounts (2004; 2001; 2002) has also described various strategies parents use to influence their adolescents' friendships, such as guiding (i.e., talking about the consequence of being friends with particular people), neutrality (i.e., not interfering with their children's peer relationships), prohibiting (i.e., forbidding adolescents' associations with particular peers) and supporting (i.e., providing an environment at home where adolescents can have their friends over).

Our studies of ethnic minority adolescents have indicated that parental rules and attitudes regarding their adolescents' friends are also critically related to friendship quality. In a concurrent analysis, adolescents' perceptions of parental rules and attitudes was significantly associated with the quality of closest friendships over and above the effect of mother and family support. Those adolescents who perceived themselves as having parents with a more encouraging attitudes (e.g., "my parents think it is important to have friends") and rules (e.g., "my parents allow me to spend time with my friends during the weekends or after school") toward friendships reported having more supportive close friendships. Indeed, parenting rules and attitudes about friendships emerged as the only significant family-level predictor of closest same-sex friendship quality when included in a hierarchical regression model with adolescents' perceptions of family support and parental monitoring as independent predictors (Rosenbaum, 20003). In a prospective analysis, only parental attitudes about friendships predicted change over time in perceived close friendship quality. Adolescents who perceived their parents to have increasingly more positive attitudes about friendships over time also reported having increasingly more supportive close friendships (Way & Greene, 2005). Our concurrent and prospective analysis suggest that in addition to family support, parental monitoring, guidance, attitudes and rules pertaining to friendships are critical correlates of the ways in which adolescents perceive the quality of their close friendships.

Our qualitative data suggest ethnic differences in parents' attitudes about friendships. Our interview data indicated that the adolescents, particularly the Black and Asian American adolescents, perceive their parents to be extremely wary of non-familial friendships (Gingold, 20033; Way, 1998; Way & Pahl, 1999; Way & Greene, 2005). For example, Michael, an Asian American adolescent, says: "My mom doesn't think friends are important because they may betray you or something they can have a bad influence on you." Like Michael, adolescents indicated that their parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles warned them repeatedly of the tendency for non-familial friends to be deceptive and deviant. Previous research has suggested that many families from low-income and/or ethnic minority backgrounds maintain belief systems—due to a history of discrimination and oppression—that those who are not part of one's immediate or extended family should not be trusted (Salguero & McCusker, 1996; Stack, 1974; Way, 1998). Thus, while parental attitudes about friendships may influence the quality of friendships of adolescents from a wide range of backgrounds, the particular attitudes that parents have about friendships may be group specific.

Notably, qualitative findings from our research also demonstrate that the influence of parental concerns and warnings about friendships appear to vary depending on adolescents' perceived parental closeness. Adolescents who reported being close to their parents were more likely to report being ex tremely careful regarding the selection and maintenance of their own friendships. Those adolescents who reported being less close to their parents were more likely to disregard parental warnings and be less cautious of friendships in general (Gingold, 20033). Like our survey data, which showed significant associations between the quality of parent and friend relationships, these qualitative findings suggest a compensatory pattern for those adolescents who report low levels of parental closeness. However, the compensatory mechanism appears to entail rejecting parents' warnings by seeking out friendships rather than having friends to compensate for the lack of support within their families.

Confident Kids

Confident Kids

Although nobody gets a parenting manual or bible in the delivery room, it is our duty as parents to try to make our kids as well rounded, happy and confident as possible. It is a lot easier to bring up great kids than it is to try and fix problems caused by bad parenting, when our kids have become adults. Our children are all individuals - they are not our property but people in their own right.

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