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In What Ways is Friendship Important in Childhood?

It is only fair to state that no one is naturally withdrawn or extrovert. Society cannot label others with such things as friendship genetics. Friendship is an ability we can all learn, such as understanding compassionate ways to convey with friends in order to gain trust and build on a closer friendship as the relationship and person(s) mature. The learning curve do not limit itself only to the developing child, but as adults, it too is essential to develop the ability to self disclose, what to reveal and to whom, as well as increasing the likelihood of befriending those who share the same values, more importantly how to be for others the kind of friend that you want others to be for you, so to benefit from a fuller rewarding life. As it is this human action we participate in daily whether it be at school or work. In this essay I will explore ideas of the significance of friendship and how the approaches lead me to it’s encompassing meaning through understanding the perceptions of children’s views and experiences. The essay will analysis and emphasise many of the theories that respond to the challenges and discourses behind childhood friendships and the quality of children’s cultural world with reference to how it is impacted. It will explore definitions of friendship that should help give an improved knowledge of what it means to call someone a friend.

Friendships are important in helping children develop emotionally and socially. They provide a training ground for trying out different ways of relating to others. Through interacting with friends, children learn the give and take of social behaviour in general. They learn how to set up rules, how to weigh alternatives and make decisions when faced with dilemmas. There is evidence in our society why friendship in childhood is more important than ever before, and will resume to expand in importance. There is a trend concerning smaller nuclear families it is becoming increasingly rare for anyone to have more than five children of their own. Only one child, or two, at the most three, is more the societal norm. For the only child, friendship offers an opportunity for intimate peer interaction unavailable in the home. Secondly because of the relocation to another town, city, or country of working and older aged relatives, parents, grandparents, and siblings, family members may not be around in adult years for frequent contact. Thirdly the number of working mothers of school age children continues to rise, where friendship offers these children an alternative intimate relationship at school or after-school play to the maternal one. These are only a hand full of the social factors we need to consider when weighing up the importance of friends.

There is an array of different relationships children encounter on a day-to-day basis ie parents, siblings, best friends and even teachers. As do adults encounter friendships as their wives, husbands, children, colleagues etc. With some thought these examples can all be relatively easy to define in terms of the relationship we hold with them, but what does it mean to be someone’s friend? As it is clear we cannot class all of them as friends, but they do all hold significant valued relationship in our lives. As a relationship, friendship itself has had a shifting existence, reflecting back to the last few decades, from a selective memory, the lasting import of social relationships. When I was a child and my parents constantly indoctrinated my siblings and I to choose our friends wisely. I constantly hear my fathers voice echoing “A man is known by the company he keeps,” to the point where we were all to scared to have, let alone keep friends. We understood by keeping a friend we were taking on full responsibility for our own action and those of our friends and at the end of the day if we were caught for wrong doings as children do, that was immoral and devalued by my parents standards, if the mention of our family name came into question however slight we had to suffer the consequences; in our case given the strap. As we got older we better understand my fathers declaration to mean there was no need for friends at all, as there was nine children within the household to met all the needs children required in terms of companionship, stimulation, developing values to guide decision making and interests, as well as capabilities that lay the foundation for future decisions, gained through the interaction of older siblings. Our needs as children revolved around household tasks. Hobbies, in the existence of amusing the younger siblings, and skill-oriented activities in the form of collectively working and having chores, everyone knew their roles from Monday to Sunday. Even though our upbringing was not the most conventional method, I identified searching for friendships and understanding what made a good friend was very similar to what children seeked in parents i.e. security, trust, reliability, love of different degrees as well as a placement of comfort etc. My peers were my sisters and brothers, we were able to identify with same sex peer friendships, as well as heightened competition as we were all competitive in our own right and for the members of our family through sibling rivalry and competition, we developed a sense of self and placement in relation to the society we live in. Therefore my point being as with the Lorna Sage’s account of the value of personal reminiscence as evidence my experiences are not to be taken as testimony, but to illustrate social relationships whatever they may be marks me for the adult I am today and defines the effectiveness of friendship I may have developed.

In contrast, having four children of my own the eldest being twelve, followed by the eight year old and four year old. Watching my own children and their peers growing up, there is a definite keenness and swiftness to call more or less anybody a friend for instance, making a new friend at school and wanting them to stay a week later on a sleepover, this was unheard of in my childhood. A friend was someone you knew as well as the rest of the family for several years. Yet, regardless of a child’s particular friendship style, experts contend that parents play a critical role in helping children develop and refine their friendship skills. Such as guiding a preschooler into initiating and maintaining positive relationships with their peers, how a child interacts with other children appears to be heavily influenced by the nature of the relationship with the parents. For example where there are strong, positive mother-child attachment, children will be more responsive and harmonious in their peer play, the bottom line. A close relationship with a parent appears to provide a young child with a base of security, which in turn leads to greater confidence in developing and negotiating relationships outside the family. This leads on to say the better the human behaviour the more easily liked and accepted the child is. Children who are liked tend to join a group in a relevant way by tuning into the other child’s interests or contributing in some meaningful way to an activity or dialogue. It can be suggested that this is the same way a socially successful adult would converse or interact with a friend only on a simpler level.

Friendships are not just a luxury; they are a necessity for healthy psychological development. Research shows that children with friends have a greater sense of well being, better self-esteem and fewer social problems as adults than individuals without friends. On the other hand, children with friendship problems are more likely than other children to feel lonely, to be victimised by peers, to have problems adjusting to school, and to engage in deviant behaviours.

Children and adolescents of all ages think of friendship in terms of acting in response of what they do for each other, what actually happens between friends’ changes with age. The toddler may help a friend rebuild his block tower; the school age child may help a friend with homework; the adolescent may offer advice to a friend on issues they can’t discuss with parents. Although the issue of reciprocity remains constant, concepts of friendship and the behaviours associated with friendship change as children develop. There are different stages of development that children will acquire in friendships, which will provide, certain needs, behaviours, experiences and capabilities depending on age and other factors as to the physiological maturity of the child in question.

Friendships through the ages have developed very quickly. For example, in the toddler years, children begin to establish contact with peers, develop the rudiments of play behaviour and show preferences for certain playmates. Preschoolers identify specific children as friends and interact differently with friends than non-friends. With toddlers friendship is not reflected in language, but in the time they spend together engaged in a common activity. During the primary school years children generally choose friends who are similar to themselves and who share their interests. At this age, children become increasingly group-oriented the most well liked children are those who can manage social relations within a group and think of activities that are fun. The amount of time spent with friends is greatest during middle childhood and adolescence. Teenagers spend almost a third of their waking time in the company of friends. Most adolescents move away from relying on family and parents and develop close ties with friends.

The conflicting aspect is, as well as friendship being a positive social arrangement, it is necessary to indicate the negative position children encounter. The quality of friendship is important. The clearly recognised effects of peer pressure, which tend to present in early adolescence, although positive for many, can also have negative consequences. Children who align themselves with friends who engage in antisocial behaviour are at risk for also engaging in this type of behaviour. Antisocial friends are not good role models. In contrast, adolescents who have a history of positive peer relationships and are socially mature are more resilient and better able to deal with life changes and stress. Learning to deal with peer pressure, competition and difference is a necessary part of development. It could be claimed that helping children deal with pressure from friends could possibly be more important than protecting them from it. Significant to say, at this difficult stage the child has two principal responsibilities. To create a personal identity based on the integration of values and a sense of self. The adolescent must establish an identity in relation to society, the opposite sex, ideas, the future, possible vocations, and on whole tackle the universe, as it may seem. The establishment of independence is set in place. This can create tension with the family over limits, values, responsibilities, friends, and plans for the future. There is no doubt that peers become a significant factor of socialisation in adolescent years. Interests, the manner of speech and clothes are chosen according to friends. Parents usually recognise the peers’ influence, therefore they encourage their children to choose a more appropriate friend(s). The media is another factor, exercising influence on sex socialisation. From the early years children watch stereotypical male and female characters and their behaviour patterns on TV. In such a way, due to the process of socialisation in society, the reproduction of traditional sex roles and their conveyance to other generation is ensured.

How children learn the patterns of behaviour typical of their sex is regularly debated using theories exploring sex role socialisation. For example, social learning perspective demonstrates that children learn their roles by being encouraged or punished by adults i.e. the behaviour proper to the sex is encouraged and the improper behaviour is punished. A boy will be encouraged if he takes after his father’s behaviour and be punished if he imitates his mother. A girl will be encouraged and punished respectively. A child masters the appropriate behaviour by watching other people and through friendships.

To conclude friendship requires an investment of time and effort, children need guidance in how to develop and maintain friends until they are old enough to make arrangements on their own, they need their parents or caretakers to set up play dates for them with their friends. Playing with the kid next door is fine, but is it enough? They need to cultivate friendships based on likes and dislikes, not just proximity and convenience. It has been recognised that childhood friendships are not simply irrational reasonless child’s play but powerful foretelling of social adjustment in to adulthood. Children’s friendships are the training grounds for important adult relationships, including marriage, where key sites are formed in socialisation and bonding takes place. It is evidently clear that friendship is crucial for school age children. However, friendship affirms and validates in a more distinctive way than even the most positive romantic or blood tie. It is recognised that friendships are vital throughout life from the toddler to the adult.


Kehily, MJ and Swann, J (ed 2003) U212

Children’s Cultural Worlds

Milton Keynes, The Open University