Summary of Quality of Friendships Qualitative Data

Similar to what the research literature has suggested (Savin-Williams & Berndt, 1990), shared secrets were a critical part of the experience of closeness for the adolescents in our studies. Contrary to the existing literature on friendships, however, shared secrets or the desire to share secrets was just as important for boys as for girls. Perhaps among adolescents who come from more interdependent cultures (e.g., poor and working class, African American, Latino, and Asian American families), sharing the intimate details of one's life with close friends is more normative than among adolescents who come from more autonomy-focused cultures (e.g., European American, middle-class families). It is also possible that our findings are more a product of methodology than of sample demographics. The ways in which we conduct qualitative research entails creating a safe space for young people to share their thoughts and feelings and encouraging them to speak about what they find most meaningful (see Way, 1998). Such research may be better equipped to "unpack" the meaning of closeness than more close-ended surveys typically used in quantitative research. Indeed, Chu (2004) also found in her qualitative research with primarily White, middle-class adolescent boys that sharing secrets was an important part of friendships for these boys as well.

Moreover, results from our qualitative findings suggest that in addition to the sharing of secrets, closeness was based on sharing money, physical and emotional protection, and having family/friend connections. Again, it is unclear whether these elements of closeness are unique to the ethnic minority low SES, urban adolescents in our studies, or whether similar variations in the meaning of closeness would be evident for youth of different backgrounds. It is likely, however, that the sharing of money is more relevant for those who have less money than for those for whom money is not a concern. Similarly, protection from harm may be particularly critical for those raised in environments where they do not feel safe. Finally the value of family/friend connections might be especially important for those adolescents coming from cultures in which family relationships are strongly emphasized. "Fictive kin" has been explored for decades in the research on African American family relationships (Stack, 1974) and our research suggests that these fictive kin networks are also important for understanding adolescent friendships. Themes connecting friends and family, however, were not evident among Asian American adolescents which may be due to parents' values and beliefs (Way & Chen, 2000). Asian American adolescents in our studies often spoke of their parents being distrustful of their peers, particularly peers who were not Asian, and not allowing their children's friends to come to their homes (Way & Pahl, 2001; Way & Greene, 2005). This prohibition may influence the extent to which non-familial friends and family members blend together.

Distrust of peers was also a significant theme in our data. Reasons for the high levels of distrust might lie with the racism and harassment experienced by the adolescents on a daily basis (see Rosen-

bloom & Way, 2004). This lack of trust likely affects adolescents' ability to trust each other (Epstein & Karweit, 1983). Increases in distrust over time, particularly distrust of same-sex peers, may also be due to the increased likelihood of having actually experienced a betrayal by a friend and by the "compulsory heterosexuality" (see Tolman, 2002) that weighs down on girls and boys particularly during middle and late adolescence, often leading them to betray their same-sex friends. Adolescents, particularly the boys, found it increasingly difficult to find and maintain same-sex friendships as they grew older which is likely due, at least in part, to gender expectations regarding what it means to be "a man" or "woman" and the embedded homophobia in mainstream messages regarding masculinity and femininity (Chu, 2004; McAnGhaill, 1996; Raymond, 1994). Nevertheless, these feelings of distrust, for the most part, did not preclude close, trusting friendships from flourishing. Indeed, although the context of friendships was one of mistrust, the friendships themselves appeared quite trustworthy and close. Understanding what allows for or supports adolescents' "relational resilience" is an important area for future investigation.

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Responses

  • herugar
    How to conduct qualitative data on friendship?
    7 years ago

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