Pathways through Adolescence: Individual Development in Relation to Social Contexts

By Lisa J. Crockett; Ann C. Crouter | Go to book overview
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More generally, as adolescents' needs and goals change, so should the relationships that are most likely to be productive for themselves and for others with whom they associate. On this count, changes in "best friends" may be, for many persons, adaptive in the course of growing up. The problem is that changes can be disruptive in the short term even if they are adaptive in the long term. From the reports of teenage subjects, there are few satisfying ways in which relationships may be broken up or modified without distress to one or both individuals ( Cairns & Cairns, 1995). There are inevitable problems in disengagement with former best friends and pain from having been in love.


Adolescent social groups and friendships are dynamic and fluid, yet they follow predictable developmental trajectories over time and space. The shifts do not occur willy-nilly, and they occur within a systematic framework. Moreover, the instability of friendships does not diminish their importance in personal development. The fickleness of peer relationships can ensure variability of influences and the evolution over adolescence of relationships consistent with the individual's preferences and life. In many adolescent experiences, it would appear that it is often more functional to switch than stay. Indeed, failure to switch friendships when interests, goals, and beliefs diverge may lead to chronic conflicts in the relationship and in the self as well.

It is often assumed that stability in friends and groups is good, and that social change is stressful. On this view, healthy adolescents are assumed to have stable friendships and social groups, and deviant or at-risk youth are assumed to have unstable friendships and groups. Such a perspective leaves little room for growth and change, particularly when change is called for. Not all relationships are healthy, and healthy relationships can sour. The fact that friendships and social-group affiliations shift may contribute to the meaning and significance of those relationships that remain. In the development of human personality, relationship stability must be continuously balanced with the dynamics of social change and individual growth.


Asher S. R., & Coie J. D. (Eds.). ( 1990). Peer rejection in childhood. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Asher S. R., & Dodge K. A. ( 1986). "Identifying children who are rejected by their peers". Developmental Psychology, 22, 444-449.


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