Agerelated Changes in Friendship Experiences

Additional longitudinal studies investigating how friendships change over time during adolescence and from adolescence to young adulthood are also warranted. Indeed, with regard to friendships, researchers have noted repeatedly (e.g., Newcomb & Bagwell, 1996) that longitudinal research is extremely limited, with much of it conducted over brief periods of time, with middle-class, White adolescents (e.g., Buhrmester & Furman, 1987) or with young children (e.g., Ladd, 1990). Notwithstanding, the extant research has suggested that over time, friendships become more intimate and self-disclosing, with gender differences in friendship quality becoming more pronounced during the transition from childhood to early adolescence (Berndt, 1989; Crockett et al., 1984; Furman & Burhmester, 1992; Hirsch & Rapkin, 1987; Youniss & Smollar, 1985) but less pronounced from early to late adolescence (Azmitia et al.,1998). Our research suggests a similar pattern but also indicates that gender differences may be context-specific.

As adolescents mature, more sophisticated thought processes enable them to make comparisons between themselves and others (Barenboim, 1981). Such comparisons not only enhance adolescents' understanding of their own beliefs, behaviors, and characteristics, but also promote friendship formation based on similarly shared beliefs and expectations, or on the flip side, discouraging relationships with dissimilar peers (Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Paralleling the maturation of adolescent thought processes, adolescent exposure to diverse groups of peers increases, with middle and high schools providing some adolescents their first contact with youth from diverse ethnic backgrounds (Epstein & Karweit, 1983; Hamm, 1998). Consequently, with regard to cross-ethnic/race friendships, this exposure may contribute to increased experiences of discrimination and a tendency to judge others in terms of existing stereotypes (Hamm, 1998). Future research, taking into account intrapersonal, interpersonal, and contextual antecedents and consequences of friendship quality, characteristics, and formation over time, is warranted (Hamm, 2000). Examining the dynamic process of friendship development over time and in context will enhance our understanding of friendships in particular and also of adolescent development more broadly.

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