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  • Carolyn Prins

The Power of Friendship


"A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.” -Unknown

Victimization and bullying are a common issue in schools across the world. Based on a number of international studies, it is thought that at least 15% of school children experience victimization.[1] Though it can be easy to think of bullying as “a temporary issue” or “something to grin and bear,” victimization has serious immediate and long term effects on adolescents. It is not only an adolescent’s social experiences that are impacted by victimization, but also their psychological well being and health. Students who are bullied tend to have lower social skills, impaired academic achievement, and are more likely to experience mental health issues, both in the short and long term. [1] When one considers the impact that victimization can have on a young person, it is clear the importance of investigating factors that can mitigate and ease these repercussions. While preventing bullying is important, it is also valuable to examine possible protective measures against it. Based on the prominent idea that adolescent friendship is one of the most important factors in protecting against the impact of victimization, a study by Cuadros et al. advanced our understanding of this relationship by investigating the specific aspects of friendship that moderate the impact of bullying on adolescent well being.

The positive influence of friendship depends not only on having friends, but also on the quality of the social relationship. It can be easy to confuse peer-to-peer acquaintance with friendship, despite important differences between the two. One’s peers are a much larger group in which one establishes their social standing and identity within a wider group. In contrast, friendship represents an emotional relationship where acceptance is the strongest when the friendship is mutual and reciprocal.[1] This close emotional environment gives adolescents a place to share their experiences and thoughts where it is safe, and where they can learn from those they trust. Adolescents with friendships of higher quality handle peer pressure and conflict resolution more successfully. Friendship is, however, a complicated social relationship that has many contributing factors such as affection, closeness, disclosure, and support.[1]

Upon examination of their study results, the researchers found distinct differences between the male and female participants regarding the aspects of friendship that contributed to wellness both in the face of, and isolated from, victimization. These differences are likely due to the variations in the structure of either group's social relationships. When investing the role of friendship on wellness overall, in the male study group it was observed that disclosure and support were the two aspects with a significant impact. Support was found to positively influence wellness, while increased disclosure negatively associated with wellness. This may be because disclosure can lead to an increased focus on the negative aspects of one’s life, and an overall more negative assessment of situations. For girls, none of the friendship aspects tested were found to measurably interact with wellness, perhaps because features like support and disclosure are naturally part of the expected model of an adolescent female friendship in society. Interestingly, when researchers examined wellness as impacted by victimization, the role of friendship changed for both genders. For males, only support remains significant, perhaps due to disclosure’s corresponding increase in vulnerability and associated “revisiting” of the negative event. For females, support and disclosure became had a positive influence in supporting one’s wellness, perhaps due to the tendency of girls to gain social support through sharing of experiences.

From the results of this study, I think it is important to emphasize the different roles that friendship plays for different genders, particularly with the aspect of disclosure. When supporting strong friendships, we need to recognize that certain elements will differ in their positive or negative effect between genders. For young males, encouraging disclosure during periods of victimization may actually be more harmful than it is helpful. In contrast, for girls this may be a valuable way to gain social support and build friendship intimacy. In addition to considering these differences, we must also realize the limitations of the study’s findings. Firstly, the study measured well being without considering its mental health aspects. Therefore, the impact of different friendship aspects may vary when we consider the mental health of adolescents. Secondly, children differ in their alignment with gender norms. Not all girls will experience the same impact as the female study group did, nor all males with the male study group. Individuals are all different and unique, and thus may have differing experiences.

References

Cuadros, Olga, and Christian Berger. 2016. “The Protective Role of Friendship Quality on the Wellbeing of Adolescents Victimized by Peers.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 45 (9): 1877–88.

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