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.

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