The Friendships of Delinquents

By Marcus, Robert F. | Adolescence, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview
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The Friendships of Delinquents


Marcus, Robert F., Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

This article is directed at distinguishing the qualities of delinquents' friendships as contrasted with those of nondelinquents. Normal friendships will serve as a backdrop to facilitate understanding of the distinctions between the two. This review will look at behaviors and emotions displayed within delinquent and nondelinquent friendships and, particularly, those studies which have contrasted the two. Since the preponderance of studies relate to male delinquents and their friendships, this review will pertain primarily to male rather than female friendships. Finally, in the summary and conclusions new directions for furthering understanding of the nature of friendships within delinquent populations are outlined.

Normal Adolescent Friendships

The portrait commonly accepted of friendships and peer relationships often points to the overwhelming influence peers have on adolescent behavior. Rice's (1987) textbook characterization of adolescent friendships, for example, points to the following major themes:

(1) typically, in early adolescence, one to two chums are sought who are similar in sex, SES, grade, and school, and long periods are spent interacting with such individuals (e.g., on the telephone or at school activities); (2) friendships in early adolescence are unstable, with girls showing the greater instability because of the greater intimacy and reciprocity demands placed on friendships; (3) adolescents learn to get along with a heterogeneous group of peers to age 15, after which they become more discriminating; (4) adolescents conform to peer values, as well as forms of dress, appearance, and behavior. These values may not be far from those held by parents, but there is greater conformity to peer values as they approach emancipation and in situations where parent/adolescent conflict is great; (5) adolescent friendship fulfills emotional needs such as striving for independence, sharing of common interests, feelings, and problems, help in resolving conflicts, learning of social skills and the reduction of loneliness and insecurity.

Gender Differences

Normal adolescent friendships cannot be described without reference to striking differences between males and females. One may discuss the emotional qualities of friendships in general, with new qualities such as intimacy, empathy, and self-disclosure, appearing in adolescent relationships. However, the dramatic qualitative differences in favor of girls over boys makes it much less likely that differences between delinquent and nondelinquent boys will be detected (i.e., there is reduced variability). It is even possible, as Douvan and Adelson (1966) speculated, that delinquent males may exhibit more of the qualitative elements of nondelinquent females because of the greater need for loyalty and secrecy required for participation in delinquent activities. Also, while normal adolescent males might be socialized against showing intimacy in friendships, this might not be true of delinquent males.

The classic study by Douvan and Adelson (1966), as well as more recent research on adolescent friendships by Youniss and Smollar (1985), suggest that male-female difference in quality of friendship have been stable for about thirty years. The research by these authors involved interviews in 1955 and 1956 of 1,045 boys, ages 14 to 16, and 2,005 girls grades 6 through 12. Girls 14 to 16 years of age stressed security in friendship and wanted a friend to be loyal, trustworthy, and a reliable source of support in an emotional crisis. Boys, on the other hand, did not consider close friendships to be as important as did girls and made fewer demands for closeness, mutual understanding, or emotional support. Boys made little mention of security nor did they talk about sensitivity and empathy. Instead, they named concrete qualities such as friends needing to be cooperative and demanding little in the way of direct interaction.

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