Intimate friendships in adolescence

Intimate friendships are the third type of peer relationships that occur during adolescence. These friendships can contribute to an adolescent’s social development in ways in which a peer group cannot. Strong friendships serve as a vehicle for the expression of personal feelings – anger, excitement, anxiety, doubts, hopes and fears. A close friendship can also act as a safety valve, because close friends have more freedom to be critical of each other. They thereby save themselves from rejection by the broader peer group by testing out their behaviour, tastes and ideas on each other.

Nagging doubts about one’s worth can be put aside when a friend who ‘really understands’ is found. An intimate friendship can thus allow an adolescent to define his or her own identity and gain self-confidence and pride.

The development of crowd, clique and intimate relationships generally leads the adolescent towards a one-to-one relationship with someone, usually of the opposite sex, who is regarded as a potential life partner. In Western societies this is the hoped-for adjustment made at the end of adolescence. Because of its importance, it is not surprisingly often beset by emotional difficulties. The phase of social adolescence may last well beyond the end of the teenage years before reaching a satisfactory outcome.

Contrary to popular belief, the higher the intelligence, the more chance an adolescent has of being accepted by both sexes in the peer group. Social or cultural background can also influence acceptance or rejection. Young adolescents gradually become more aware of social, cultural or racial differences: their peer groups often mirror adult patterns of social and racial integration or segregation. Some individualists who are confident of attaining their goals, and have a strong ego identity, may not need the recognition, approval or praise of peers. At the other extreme, unpopular adolescents may be caught in a vicious circle. If they are already insecure and emotionally troubled, they are likely to be rejected by their peers; this unfortunately serves only to undermine further their self-confidence, and increases their social isolation.