The Importance of Social Groups in Adolescence
Most children and adolescents frequently interact and enjoy being with peers besides their close friends. Over time, many form larger social groups that regularly get together (N. Eisenberg et al., 1996; Gottman & Mettetal, 1986). Initially, such groups are usually composed of a single sex, but in adolescence they often include both boys and girls (Gottman & Mettetal, 1986; J. R. Harris, 1995).
Once children or adolescents gel as a group, they prefer other group members over nonmembers, and they develop feelings of loyalty to individuals within the group. In some cases they also develop feelings of hostility and rivalry toward members of other groups (Dunham, Baron, & Banaji, 2006; J. R. Harris, 1998; Nesdale, Maass, Durkin, & Griffiths, 2005). If you look back on your own adolescent years, you may recall that you and your friends attached names to members of different groups—not only the “popular” students mentioned in the opening case study but perhaps also “brains,” “jocks,” “druggies,” or “geeks”—and you probably viewed some of the groups unfavorably (Eckert, 1989; J. R. Harris, 1995). Ggroup memberships affect learners’ sense of self, and associations with such unofficial groups as these are no exception. Even children in the primary grades know that social groups can vary considerably in social status (Bigler, Brown, & Markell, 2001; Dunham et al., 2006; Nesdale et al., 2005).
As youngsters reach puberty, larger groups become an especially prominent feature of their social worlds. Researchers have identified several distinct types of groups during the adolescent years: cliques, crowds, subcultures, and gangs. Cliques are moderately stable friendship groups of perhaps 3 to 10 individuals, and such groups provide the setting for most voluntary social interactions (Crockett, Losoff, & Peterson, 1984; J. L. Epstein, 1986; Kindermann et al., 1996). Clique boundaries tend to be fairly rigid and exclusive (some people are “in,” others are “out”), and memberships in various cliques often affect social status (Goodwin, 2006; Wigfield et al., 1996).
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