General Characteristics of the Adolescent (page 4)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

The Redefinition of Friendship: A Need for Communication

Ask a nine-year-old child to tell you the name of her best friend and why the two of them are friends. She is likely to describe her friend in a somewhat concrete way. She will tell you, for example, what her friend looks like, how she dresses, where she lives, and other information about her friend's external characteristics. Ask a teenager the same question, and you are likely to hear a description filled with references to the other person's personality characteristics, such as attitudes, values, worries, interests, and beliefs (Berndt, 1982; Diaz & Berndt, 1982).

Developmental changes occur not only in the types of knowledge people have about their friends, but also in basic definitions of friendship, in the expectations one has of one's friends, and in the perceived obligations of friendship, with the general trend being a shift from external, action-oriented conceptions to those that are internal and communication oriented (Bigelow, 1977; Ryan & Smollar, 1978; Smollar & Youniss, 1982). As an illustration of this pattern, Volpe (1976) reported that a 10-year-old boy, asked how one develops a friendship, answered, "Friends are easy to make. All you have to do is go up to a guy, and ask him if he wants to play ball; then he's a friend. If he don't want to play ball, then he's not a friend, unless you decide to play something else" (in Smollar & Youniss, 1982, p. 283). In contrast, 12- and 13-year-olds usually referred to the importance of personal qualities rather than shared activities, and they stressed the importance of really getting to know somebody intimately, with particular emphasis on their interests, likes, and dislikes.

Adolescents, then, see a relationship as an opportunity to satisfy their need to communicate, and they seek levels of intimacy with their peers that children do not require. Mere playmates—people whose preferred recreational activities are the same as one's own—are no longer sufficient, and shared personality characteristics replace shared activities as the basis for friendship. It should not be surprising, therefore, that a major function of play during adolescence is to satisfy this need for intimacy. We shall see that although much of adolescent play is less structured than that of children and often consists of simply "hanging out," such play is no less important developmentally than the games of childhood.

The Growth of Self-Awareness: A Need for Identity

As children enter their teenage years, a number of circumstances occur that cause them to reevaluate their definitions of self. The first is a series of major physical changes attributable to the onset of puberty. Erikson (1963) maintained that as a result of pubertal changes "all samenesses and continuities relied on earlier are more or less questioned again". In other words, because the transitions of early adolescence are so rapid and so dramatic, children must, in a sense, reacquaint themselves with their own bodies.

A second major change at adolescence is the change in social roles and expectations; the adolescent is no longer expected or allowed to behave like a child and now must make serious plans for the future as an adult. As but one example of these changed social expectations, frivolous or unrealistic career goals are no longer seen as appropriate by adults, and the adolescent is encouraged to think seriously about future work roles.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, adolescents can reason in abstract terms, and are now able to analyze themselves, to stand back and assess themselves as others see them. In fact, Erikson (1963) believes that although the major concern of children is with what they feel they are, the concern shifts during adolescence; teenagers become concerned with what they appear to be in the eyes of other people.

Physical changes, changed social roles and expectations, and the intellectual changes related to formal reasoning all combine to challenge the adolescent to integrate past, present, and future in such a way as to establish a stable and consistent sense of self. This is the crisis of identity. A stable identity will not be established quickly, however, and it is during the period of adolescence that there is a slow trial-and-error process of identity resolution. Teenagers test themselves in a variety of ways as they seek deeper levels of self-awareness. They tryout different jobs, different classes at school, different relationships. Quite often it is through relationships that adolescents come to understand themselves. Erikson noted, for example, that when adolescents fall in love, it is not entirely a sexual matter, but may also be an attempt to understand the self by seeing the self reflected in the loving eyes of another person.

When we speak of adolescent play, we should try to think of it in the context of the adolescent's attempts at identity resolution. While Erikson did not directly address the issue of play during the teen-age years, his conceptualization of ego development explains much about the play of adolescence. Adolescent play, as we shall see, is both a reflection of and an effort to satisfy the adolescent's need for identity.

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