The Quality of Friendships Qualitative Data

Although research has examined the extent to which adolescents feel intimate or supported in their friendships, very little research has focused on how adolescents make meaning of or experience their friendships in the first place. There has been an implicit and explicit assumption in the friendship research that we already know how adolescents experience their friendships and thus should focus instead on the frequencies or intensity of these experiences. Yet descriptive research on how adolescents experience friendships is not only dated (Sullivan, 1954; Selman, 1980; Youniss & Smollar, 1985), it is also based primarily on White middle class adolescents. Furthermore, research has rarely explored how friendship experiences and meanings vary by age, gender, or race/ethnicity (exceptions include Azmitia et al., 1998). Our longitudinal studies of ethnic minority, low-income adolescents are one of the only sets of studies that has explored the ways in which adolescents experience their friendships from early to late adolescence and how these experiences during adolescence vary by age, gender, and race/ethnicity.

In-depth interviews over a 4- to 5-year period revealed themes of closeness, desire, and distrust, and subthemes within each of these themes, in the friendships of urban, low SES, ethnic minority youth (Way et al., 2004; Way & Pahl, 2001). For example, closeness is experienced not only as a result of intimate disclosures but also as a result of borrowing and loaning money. Furthermore, these three themes are interwoven such that, for example, the theme of distrust (i.e., not trusting anyone) formed a type of "context" for the experience of closeness. Over the next few pages, we describe these three overarching patterns, the subthemes within each pattern, and the ways in which these patterns vary by gender, ethnicity, and age.

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