Friendship Across the Life Span: Formation, Maintenance & Impact

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Studying friendship is an important part of understanding who people are and how we relate to one another. This lesson discusses the factors influencing friendship and the impacts friendship can have across the life span.

Learning About Friendship

Jayla is a young adult who knows she could not manage without her best friend Kim. Not only do Jayla and Kim do everything together, they also confide their deepest worries and joys to one another.

Yet Jayla knows that friendship has not always felt exactly like this to her. She becomes interested in learning more about what friendship is, why she becomes friends with certain people and not others, and how friendships influence different people's lives and development.

Friends in Early Childhood

First, Jayla learns about early childhood, the period from about 18 months to age 6. Jayla discovers that most young children make friends with children of their parents' friends, or with other children who play with similar toys and games.

Moreover, in early childhood, friendship is almost exclusively based on playing. First, two friends might engage in parallel play, or playing with similar sets of objects but without interacting much. Over the course of early childhood, play becomes more interactive, meaning kids rely on each other's contributions.

Because friendships in these years are often based on family comfort and connections, race and class can have a substantial impact on early friendships. Jayla remembers that she mostly played with other kids in her neighborhood, meaning geography also has a huge influence.

Many times, gender is also influential on friendship in early childhood, especially as pretend play becomes situated amidst gender norms and stereotypes. Friendships in early childhood help young children learn about taking turns, sharing toys, and separating from their caregivers.

Friends in Middle Childhood

Next, Jayla focuses on middle childhood, usually understood as the period from ages 7 to about 12. In middle childhood, Jayla remembers friendship becoming a little more complex. Children in this age range still play, but increasingly, friendship becomes about talking together, sharing interests, and confiding worries.

Conflicts among friends and friendship groups in middle childhood are very common, and Jayla understands that often, these conflicts are learning experiences for children. In other words, friendships in middle childhood can influence a kid's ability to tolerate anger and frustration, to see an issue from multiple perspectives, and to resolve difficult conflicts.

Some of the factors influencing friendship in middle childhood include race, class, gender, and ability. Sharing common interests can also bring friends together, and family dedication to the friendship continues to play an important role.

Friends in Adolescence

In adolescence, the ages from about 12 to 20, Jayla remembers friendship becoming much more important in her life. Indeed, it is the case that adolescents are often very peer oriented, and they are in the midst of a more intense process of separating from their families and forming their individual identities.

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