Characteristics and Function of Peer Relationships in Early Adolescence

Characteristics and Function of Peer Relationships in Early Adolescence
Peer relationships constitute an important aspect of development in
almost all stages of human development. Peer relationships may occur at
different levels, which include the general interaction, friendships, or
group relationships. Peer relationships enhance the individual’s
capacity to engage with peers successfully at different levels,
especially during childhood. Based on Erikson stages of development,
human beings exhibit different characteristics during their interaction
with others starting from infancy, childhood, adolescence, early
adolescence, and late adolescence (An & Cooney, 2006). Different crisis
that people face in various stages of development may affect their
psychosocial development and effectiveness of their interaction with
peers. This paper will focus on characteristics of peer relationship
among individuals in the early adolescence development and functions of
such interactions in their lives. Peer pressure, peer crowds, peer
cliques, and parental influence are the main peer relationship
characteristics that aid in adolescent development.
Peer relationships among infants
Peer relationships between the infants are one of the highly neglected
areas of study. McGaha, Cummings, Lippard & Dallas (2001) stated “to
interact, children needed to be able to see each other and to be
together in the same space” (p. 1). This implies that the interaction
between infants and other infants or infants and older children are
facilitated by caregivers who give them an opportunity to be together.
Suitable environmental arrangements (such as mealtime) bring people of
different age groups together (including immobile infants and older
children), which is an opportunity for interaction. Although infants
exhibit minor signs (such as smiling, looking at each other, and
attempting to reach and each other) of relationship among themselves,
the presence of play materials such as dolls enhance their interaction.
Since the presence of caregivers is crucial to infants’ relationships,
their characteristics and behaviors may hinder the psychosocial
relationship between infants and result in the development of mistrust.
Peer relationships among children in early, middle, and late stages of
Similar to infant, children are highly protected by caregivers in their
early, middle, and late childhood stages of development. However, their
interaction and relationships at these advanced stages of development is
more meaningful than infants since they have learned how to move their
bodies, respond to gentle touch, and play with items such as dolls
rather than just having the dolls placed near them like in the case of
infants. McGaha, Cummings, Lippard & Dallas (2001) explored the impact
of planned opportunity on children relationship and stated “the
relationship could be enhanced by putting together small mixed-age
groupings of two or three children by having infants visit the older
children and vice versa, having the infants and older children on the
playground at the same time, taking the children on walks together, and
having small groups of children together outside the classroom-both
indoors and outdoors, depending on the weather and the planned
activity” (p. 1). However, the effectiveness of these opportunities
for interaction between children in enhancing their peer relationship
depends on the presence of open ended play materials such as boxes,
water, and paint. During the three stages of childhood development,
children attempt to acquire autonomy and competence in different fields.
However, they may develop the sense of shame, lack of confidence,
unhealthy acceptance of limits, and poor peer relationships if they are
denied these opportunities.
Peer relationships among early adolescents
Early adolescence is one of the most significant stages in human
development because it marks the transition from childhood to
adolescence. Based on Erickson’s stages of development, early
adolescence people who are in the early adolescence (11-14 years of age)
face two types of crisis namely industry versus inferiority (6-12 years)
and identity versus role confusion (12-19 years) (Ramkumar, 2002). The
later part of industry versus inferiority is characterized by an
adolescents’ attempt to redefine their relationship with the world. In
addition, some adolescents start working hard towards certain goals
while comparing their achievement with peers and this may enhance the
development of the sense of the comparison as well as inferiority among
the adolescents who feeling that they are failing. During the early part
of identity versus role confusion, these adolescents’ tries to
understand who they are and what they would like to accomplish in life.
This implies that early adolescence is a critical stage of development
at which people try to be close to peers or friends who can help them
realize their goals and identify with them.
Peer cliques
Friendship is a critical aspect of human development, especially during
the early adolescent. While analyzing different aspects of human
development based on the psychiatry theory of interpersonal development
Blume & Zembar (2010) stated “friends fulfill social needs, called
communal needs, such as companionship, acceptance, and intimacy” (p.
1). The early adolescent`s participation in various contexts (such as
extracurricular activities, competitive sports, and parties) can give
them an opportunity to interact and establish relationships with peers.
The majority of adolescent identifies themselves with peer cliques in an
attempt to quench their social needs. In addition, early adolescence is
characterized win an increase in the need for acceptance and popularity
of an individual among peer groups. In most cases, the same-gender
cliques are usually limited to members of one ethnic group. Moreover,
early adolescence is the stage in which the majority of adolescents
start becoming sexually active. This creates a completely new dimension
of peer relation from what was perceived during childhood since these
adolescents are getting to understand their sexual orientation. In
addition, early adolescents have the tendency of being identified with
popular cliques. Closson (2009) conducted a research on aggressive and
pro-social behavior in early adolescent and stated “the perceived
popularity of cliques and the social dominance of individuals within
each clique are associated with how one is regarded by friends and peers
and also are associated with one’s behavior within the clique” (p.
427). This implies that the early adolescents join certain cliques that
match with their behavior to get recognized by other peers.
Peer crowds
Adolescents peer crowds emerge from their efforts to enhance the
development of social cognitive and handle their social context. Greca,
Prinstein & Fetter (2001) stated “adolescents often characterize their
peers through the use of social labels that apply to large groups of
adolescents” (p. 132). These adolescents often give their groups
certain labels (such as jocks refer to groups of adolescents who
participate in sports, burnouts refer to groups that are always in
trouble with authorities, and brains are crowds that excel in academics)
that reflect their own characteristics. These crowds consist of ten or
more members who may not be well known to each other. This means that
the peer crowds define the current and future behavior of early
adolescents depending on the type of peer crowd they choose to be
identified with.
Parental influence
Parental monitoring of adolescent behavior is becoming increasingly
significant given the large number of risks that teens are exposed to in
the present world. However, a one sided perspective of parental
influence on adolescent development have been overturned by the new
perspective that holds that both adolescent and parents influence each
other. Kopko & Dunifon (2010) stated “adolescents play an important
and active role in regulating the amount of information that parents
have about their behavior and in allowing their parents to monitor their
behavior” (p. 1). The voluntary disclosure of information from
adolescents helps parents in understanding and guiding them about their
activities and friends. Parents ought to realize that early adolescents
often exhibit resistance to the commands and seek for autonomy. This
reduces their cooperation with parents and compliance with instructions.
Consequently, parents may experience some difficulty in guiding their
teens, but they should still guide them through persuasion, motivation,
or empathy. The attachment gained by infants and children with their
parents during their early stages of development impacts their future
peer relationships. Brown & Barkken (2011) stated “even in early
adolescence, young people are likely to look to peers as well as parents
for attachment needs, but they do not simply replicate and replace
parental attachments with peer attachments” (p. 156). This implies
that parent-child relationships affects behavioral adjustment adopted by
early adolescents. In addition, the engagement of early adolescents in
morally right of delinquent behavior largely depends on parental
management and influence on their peer relationship.
Peer pressure
Peer pressure is an important social factor in the developmental process
of early adolescents. Yunus, Mushtaq & Qaiser (2011) defined peer
pressure as “the pressure an individual feels to conform to the ways
of a social group, into which he/she wants to be accepted” (p. 1833).
Peer pressure exerts social force on early adolescents and influences
them to learn certain adaptive behavior. The family unit exerts the
first type of pressure that that helps an individual to learn adaptive
behaviors that conform to social values, norms of the society, and
healthy relationships. Adaptive behavior, which refers to a type of
behavior that is appropriate for a given age group, is perceived to be
an attempt by the early adolescent to live independently and feel safe
in their daily life. In addition, peer pressure has a significant role
socialization as well as identity development among adolescents.
Although the relationship between peer pressure and misconduct is not
statistically significant, peer pressure may at time reinforce early
adolescents to engage in negative behavior. McClenahan (1986) stated
“perceived pressure to engage in misconduct (drug / alcohol use and
sexual behavior) was less positive than pressures in other areas” (p.
147). This means that there are few cases of peer influence (although
not statistically significant) on early adolescents to engage in
delinquency, in addition to the strong influence of conforming to peer
Peer pressure, peer crowds, peer cliques, and parental influence are the
main peer relationship characteristics that aid in adolescent
development. The present study emphasized on the importance of these
factors (peer pressure, peer crowds, peer cliques, and parental
influence) on the social development of early adolescents using the
theory of Erickson’s stages of development and the psychiatry theory
of interpersonal development. The major strength of the study is that it
focused on both the positive and negative aspects of development among
early adolescents, thus reducing bias. However, the study addressed the
topic of characteristic and functions of peer relationships in early
adolescence development in a broad way. It will be necessary to focus on
specific aspects of development (such as moral values and cognitive
development) among early adolescents in future studies. This will
enhance the in-depth understanding of specific aspects of development
and ensure that the findings are generalizable.
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