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Friendship stability and change in childhood and adolescence

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Abstract

The objective of this review is to focus on a neglected aspect of children’s and adolescents’ friendships: the level of temporal stability. First, a rationale for examining stability as a distinct friendship dimension is presented. Next, the different levels of friendship experiences are distinguished. Friendship stability is also discussed across developmental periods. Factors affecting friendships stability and individual correlates associated with friendship stability are then covered. Finally, the methodological issues pertaining to the study of friendship stability are addressed. The authors conclude by emphasizing the importance of pursuing future research that aims to demonstrate the pertinence of the friendship stability construct as an individual difference variable. Further, on a methodological level, the assessment of stability needs to be based on longitudinal designs that include multiple measurement waves. Ultimately, such detailed analysis of stability will allow a better understanding of the dynamic processes by which friendships change over time and affect children’s and adolescents’ psychosocial development.
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Friendship stability and change in childhood and adolescence
François Poulin
*
, Alessandra Chan
Department of Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, Que., Canada
article info
Article history:
Received 24 September 2008
Available online 23 May 2010
Keywords:
Friendship
Peer relations
Networks
Stability
abstract
The objective of this review is to focus on a neglected aspect of
children’s and adolescents’ friendships: the level of temporal sta-
bility. First, a rationale for examining stability as a distinct friend-
ship dimension is presented. Next, the different levels of friendship
experiences are distinguished. Friendship stability is also discussed
across developmental periods. Factors affecting friendships stabil-
ity and individual correlates associated with friendship stability
are then covered. Finally, the methodological issues pertaining to
the study of friendship stability are addressed. The authors con-
clude by emphasizing the importance of pursuing future research
that aims to demonstrate the pertinence of the friendship stability
construct as an individual difference variable. Further, on a meth-
odological level, the assessment of stability needs to be based on
longitudinal designs that include multiple measurement waves.
Ultimately, such detailed analysis of stability will allow a better
understanding of the dynamic processes by which friendships
change over time and affect children’s and adolescents’ psychoso-
cial development.
Ó2009 Published by Elsevier Inc.
Introduction
The establishment of friendship relations with peers constitutes a major developmental task of
childhood and adolescence. In the 1950s, Sullivan (1953) posited that friendships play a key role in
the development of personal competence and identity, and that the acquisition of these features
may have a long-term impact on youths’ adjustment. Contemporary researchers have also emphasized
the importance of friendship relations for development (e.g., Berndt, 2002; Hartup, 1996; Rubin,
Bukowski, & Parker, 1998; Schneider, 2000; Vitaro, Boivin, & Bukowski, 2009). Notably, friends afford
0273-2297/$ - see front matter Ó2009 Published by Elsevier Inc.
doi:10.1016/j.dr.2009.01.001
*Corresponding author. Address: Département de psychologie, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, succursale
Centre-Ville, Montreal (Que.), Canada H3C 3P8. Fax: +1 514 987 7953.
E-mail address: poulin.francois@uqam.ca (F. Poulin).
Developmental Review 30 (2010) 257–272
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Developmental Review
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/dr
Author's personal copy
different types of social support (e.g., emotional, instrumental; Berndt, 1989). In addition, they repre-
sent an important source of influence on youths’ behaviors, goals and attitudes through modeling or
peer pressure (Berndt, 1999, 2002; Berndt & Murphy, 2002), influence that can lead to both positive
and negative consequences for their psychosocial development. Finally, friends provide a unique
socialization context for the acquisition of essential social skills (e.g., sharing, conflict resolution; Ep-
stein, 1986; Hartup, 1996; Youniss, 1980) which are likely to be generalized to other relationships,
such as romantic or work relationships (Bagwell, Newcomb, & Bukowski, 1998).
Given their developmental significance, several dimensions of friendships have captured research-
ers’ attention. Indeed, the presence or absence of friendships (Ladd & Troop-Gordon, 2003), the char-
acteristics of friends (Rubin, Wosjlawowiz, Rose-Krasnor, Booth-LaForce, & Burgess, 2006; Vitaro,
Tremblay, & Bukowski, 2001) and the features of friendships (Demir & Urberg, 2004; Nangle, Erdley,
Newman, Mason, & Capenter, 2003) were all found to contribute significantly and independently to
children’s and adolescents’ psychosocial adjustment. The purpose of this review is to focus on another
aspect of friendship relations in childhood and adolescence: their level of temporal stability. The no-
tion of stability is defined by the maintenance of a relationship over time, whereas instability refers to
modifications observed in friendship bonds (either friendship termination or formation). To date,
approximately 35–40 published studies have examined friendship stability in childhood and adoles-
cence, but in only about one-third of them was stability the study’s primary variable. Furthermore,
these studies are scattered throughout the literature. As a result, it is important at this point to orga-
nize the empirical research on the subject of friendship stability in order to establish a framework for
further research in this area.
This review is divided into several sections. First, the rationale for examining stability as a distinct
friendship dimension is presented. Second, the different levels of friendship experiences referred to in
the literature are described. These include best friendships, friendship networks and friendship cli-
ques. Third, friendship stability is discussed across developmental periods, from the preschool years
through adolescence. Fourth, numerous relational and contextual factors affecting friendships stability
are described. Fifth, a review of the individual correlates associated with friendship stability is pro-
vided. Finally, the methodological issues pertaining to the study of friendship stability are addressed.
Rationale for examining stability as a friendship dimension
Several arguments could be made to justify the importance of friendship stability in childhood and
adolescence. First, friendships represent unique relationships that differ from other relationships (e.g.,
parent–child, sibling). Indeed, they are voluntary and more egalitarian in nature than other relation-
ships. As a result, friendships are more likely to end than familial relationships, which are considered
permanent and are therefore more difficult to dissolve (Hartup, 1989; Laursen & Bukowski, 1997).
Second, as mentioned above, friendships play a distinct role in youth development (e.g., providing
social support, promoting social skills). It is likely that friendships must be enduring in order for them
to provide the closeness, intimacy and companionship that constitute the major benefits of having
friends. Indeed, it has been shown that friendships are influential only if they are both high in quality
and stability (Berndt, 1989). In other words, friendship stability may have an impact on youths’ adjust-
ment by amplifying the specific functions provided by friendships (Berndt, 1999) or by reinforcing
youths’ behavior patterns (Degirmencioglu, Urberg, Tolson, & Richard, 1998).
Third, a meta-analysis conducted by Newcomb and Bagwell (1995) revealed that most studies on
friendship relations examined friendships as static entities measured at a single time point, rather
than across time. However, friendships, like any other form of relationship, are likely to adapt to an
individual’s changing needs and goals (Cairns, Leung, Buchanan, & Cairns, 1995). Some friendships
are stable and last for years, some end temporarily or permanently after several weeks or only a
few days, and some others are newly-formed. Hence, friendships evolve through a temporal perspec-
tive. Yet, the changing nature of friendships has largely been neglected by researchers.
Finally, individual differences may be observed in the level of friendship stability experienced by
youths. Indeed, some may have very stable friendships, whereas others’ friendships are primarily
unstable. Still others may exhibit a level of stability in between these two extremes, with some
longstanding friendships and other shorter-term friendships. These individual variations may not be
258 F. Poulin, A. Chan / Developmental Review 30 (2010) 257–272
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random, but instead reflect something specific about the individual (Wojslawowicz, Rubin, Burgess,
Booth-LaForce, & Rose-Krasnor, 2006). It has been reported that children who have difficulties in form-
ing and maintaining friendships are likely to experience psychosocial maladjustment (Hartup, 1989).
Approximately 5–10% of children exhibit peer difficulties (Asher, 1990) and these rates are higher
among children referred to guidance clinics (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1981). Referred children have
fewer friends, their conception of friendships is less mature and their friendships are less stable over
time (Asher, 1990). Consequently, individual differences in friendship stability may be associated to
certain personal characteristics that contribute uniquely to the quality of children’s psychosocial
adjustment.
Levels of friendship experiences
Studies on friendship stability could be categorized according to three levels of friendship experi-
ences: (a) best friendships, (b) ego friendship networks or (c) friendship cliques. The great majority of
studies on friendship stability have focused on children’s best friendships. Best friendships are typi-
cally examined within a dyad (the participant and his/her best friend) or a small number of friends
(most frequently the participant’s three closest friends) (e.g., Berndt, Hawkins, & Hoyle, 1986; Bowker,
2004; Branje, Frijns, Finkenauer, Engels, & Meeus, 2007; Eder & Hallinan, 1978; Lee, Howes, & Cham-
berlain, 2007; Rubin et al., 2006; Schneider, Fonzi, Tani, & Tomada, 1997; Wojslawowicz et al., 2006).
Other studies have been conducted on youths’ ego friendship networks (e.g., Chan & Poulin, 2007;
Degirmencioglu et al., 1998; Ellis & Zarbatany, 2007; Hardy, Bukowski, & Sippola, 2002). Ego measures
of friendships refer to participants who provide information about their own friendship network. In
other words, participants report on all the friendships they have in their network (including their best
friendships as well as other secondary friendships). In such studies, the nominated friends do not nec-
essarily know each other. Ego friendship networks thus provide important information about partic-
ipants’ own perceptions of their relationships (Cairns, Leung, & Cairns, 1995). Finally, a few
researchers have examined friendship cliques (e.g., Cairns et al., 1995; Degirmencioglu et al., 1998;
Ennett & Bauman, 1996; Neckerman, 1996), which include a small group of friends (from 3 to 9)
who select each other in an interlocking network and who spend considerable and exclusive time with
each other (Ennett & Bauman, 1996; Epstein, 1986).
Network size constitutes a related issue when considering the different levels of friendship expe-
riences. Research indicates that friendship stability is inversely correlated to the size of youths’ ego
friendship network (Chan & Poulin, 2007). This finding supports the idea that as friendship networks
get larger, they tend to be less cohesive, which can then lead to a lower level of stability (Degirmen-
cioglu et al., 1998). As such, investment in too many friendships at the same time may contribute to a
decrease in the quality and stability of these bonds, whereas maintaining a small circle of friends may
enhance friendship intimacy, thereby increasing stability over time. Similarly, the literature on friend-
ship cliques suggests that group density and cohesiveness are likely to increase stability (Degirmen-
cioglu et al., 1998). Consequently, it is essential to distinguish the different types of friendship
relations, as stability in one type of friendship does not necessarily co-occur with stability in other
types of friendships (Cairns et al., 1995; Degirmencioglu et al., 1998).
Developmental age
There are theoretical reasons to believe that friendship stability should increase as a function of
developmental age. Sullivan (1953) proposed a model of social development in which specific social
needs emerge during certain stages of development. As such, he theorized that the need for compan-
ionship appears in childhood, while the need for intimacy emerges in early adolescence. In this way,
children carry a conception of friendship based on actions, situations or other overt characteristics
(Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995). When asked about the meaning of friendships, they mention character-
istics such as sharing common activities or helping one another (McDougall & Hymel, 2007).
Conversely, early adolescence is marked by biological, cognitive and social changes that bring
about the emergence of concepts of reciprocity, loyalty, and skills related to problem solving (Epstein,
1986). Therefore, adolescents acquire a deeper and more mature conception of friendship that
F. Poulin, A. Chan / Developmental Review 30 (2010) 257–272 259
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includes psychological constructs (Furman, 1982). Notions of intimacy, self-disclosure and emotional
support become the hallmark of adolescent friendships (Berndt, 1986). Furthermore, although paren-
tal influences on youths’ selection of friends are highly directive in childhood (e.g., parents may refuse
to allow the child to go to the park with a friend), parents tend to be less directive during adolescence
(Claes, 2003; Mounts, 2000). Indeed, as he or she grows older, an adolescent gains more autonomy and
participates more actively in building his or her own social universe. For example, an adolescent can
meet with his or her friends outside of home or school. Consequently, adolescents may have morecon-
trol over the selection and maintenance of their friendships compared to children (Claes, 2003). In
sum, the developmental shifts occurring in adolescence may help to consolidate friendships over time.
Supporting this view, dynamic systems theory posits that as people grow older, they generally strive
for stability in different areas of their lives (Granic & Hollenstein, 2006). Accordingly, one can expect
that friendship stability is likely to increase with age.
Indeed, research suggests that friendship stability appears to increase over time. Among school-age
children, it has been found that first graders keep about 50% of their friendships across a school year and
that fourth graders maintain approximately 75% of their friendships during the same period (Berndt &
Hoyle, 1985; Berndt et al., 1986; Hallinan & Tuma, 1978). Moreover, children’s friendship networks tend
to expand during a school year. Children tend to make more new friends than lose old ones during the
year (Berndt & Hoyle, 1985). Still, a considerable level of fluidity and change have also been observed
in children’s social networks over a short 3-week period (Cairns et al., 1995) and over a 1 year period,
with only about 30% of friendship cliques remaining stable over time (Neckerman, 1996).
Studies examining the period of early adolescence have reported a substantial level of friendship
instability. It has been found that approximately one-third to one-half of friendships are unstable (Bern-
dt, 1989; Berndt, Hawkins, & Jiao, 1999; Bowker, 2004; Cantin & Boivin, 2004; Chan & Poulin, 2007), with
youths regularly losing old friendships and forming new ones with previously unfamiliar peers (Hardy
et al., 2002). Friendship instability thus appears to be a relatively common phenomenon in early adoles-
cence. Investigators have proposed that friendship instability may be more pronounced during this time
because this period coincides with the transition to high school, along with numerous developmental
changes at the biological, cognitive, and social levels (Berndt, 1982; Eccles, Lord, & Buchanan, 1996).
Nevertheless, a few studies converge in showing that the same level of stability is found in the period
preceding the transition and the one following the transition (Berndt, 1989; Berndt et al., 1999; Cantin
& Boivin, 2004). Therefore, it seems that changes in friendships may not be linked solely to the transition
to high school, but may reflect the unstable nature of social relationships in early adolescence.
After a period of social turmoil during the early adolescent years, friendship stability appears to in-
crease again during the remaining period of adolescence (Degirmencioglu et al., 1998; Horrocks &
Thompson, 1946). Research demonstrates that adolescents keep between 50% and 75% of their friend-
ships over a school year (Berndt & Hoyle, 1985; Berndt et al., 1986; Degirmencioglu et al., 1998). Addi-
tionally, they tend to lose more old friends than to gain new ones (Berndt & Hoyle, 1985) and the
number of close friendships decreases significantly during this period, perhaps reflecting the growing
importance of intimacy over time (Claes, 2003). Finally, moderate to high levels of stability have also
been found in adolescent social networks, with approximately 50% to 80% of cliques remaining intact
over a year (Degirmencioglu et al., 1998; Ennett & Bauman, 1996).
Taken together, developmental changes in friendship stability appear to be present among children
and adolescents. However, the data reviewed above were based on independent studies considering
different levels of friendship experience and using various methodologies which make findings diffi-
cult to compare. Therefore, an important direction for future research would be to examine friendship
stability by comparing different age groups but using the same methodology. It would also be inter-
esting to invest in longitudinal studies covering all developmental periods and identify possible devel-
opmental trajectories in friendship stability.
Factors affecting friendship stability
Several factors have been proposed to account for friendship stability. These can be grouped into
relational and contextual factors. The former refers to factors associated with the friendship relation
itself, in terms of its composition (e.g., gender, age, and race composition) and features (e.g., quality),
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whereas the latter represents factors linked to youths’ social context or environment. Each of these
factors is discussed in the following section.
Relational factors
A first group of factors that can play a role in friendship stability is the composition of friendships,
i.e. the congruence between the child and his/her friends on various attributes. As such, friendships
are most likely to be formed and maintained over time between youths who are similar to one another
in terms of personal characteristics such as gender, age or race.
Same- and cross-sex friendships
The majority of studies have been conducted on same-sex friendships, probably because they are
the most prevalent type of friendships across ages (Epstein, 1986). During adolescence, however,
many youths begin to form friendships with the other gender (Maccoby, 1998). Such cross-sex friend-
ships may promote the development of unique abilities, such as perspective-taking and communica-
tion (McDougall & Hymel, 2007). Evidence suggests that youths experience a significant growth in the
proportion of cross-sex friendships beginning in early adolescence (Connolly, Furman, & Konarski,
2000; Feiring, 1999; Pelligrini, 1994; Poulin & Pedersen, 2007). These friendships tend to be short-
lived at first (Claes, 2003) and less stable than same-sex friendships (Tuma & Hallinan, 1979).
In addition, there are important gender differences in the emergence and stability of cross-sex
friendships. For example, the increase in cross-sex friendships is more pronounced for girls than boys
(Epstein, 1986; Poulin & Pedersen, 2007). Also, girls report greater cross-sex friendship instability than
boys (Chan & Poulin, 2007). These gender differences may be explained, in part, by the characteristics
of boys’ and girls’ cross-sex friends. Girls’ other-sex friends tend to be older than the girls and from
outside of school, characteristics that do not apply to boys’ other-sex friends (Poulin & Pedersen,
2007). These characteristics may influence friendship stability over time.
Same- and mixed-age friendships
One can also wonder about the stability of friendships composed of same- vs. mixed-age partners.
According to a review by Rubin, Fredstrom, and Bowker (2008), very little is known about mixed-age
friendships. These types of friendships, however, become increasingly frequent and available as ado-
lescents enter high school (Rubin et al., 2008). Younger children may benefit greatly from the relation-
ship with an older and more experienced friend (Vygotsky, 1978). On the other hand, the level of
contribution or satisfaction of each partner may not be equal within a mixed-age friendship, creating
more conflict and instability in the relationship compared to same-age friendships. Such a hypothesis
will need to be tested in future work.
Same- and cross-race friendships
Friendship stability may also vary according to the similarity between children’s and their friends’
race or ethnicity. Generally, studies report that cross-race friendships are less stable than same-race
friendships over the course of a school year (Aboud, Mendelson, & Purdy, 2003; Lee et al., 2007).
Cross-race friendships typically decline over time, especially after the transition to high school (Aboud
& Janani, 2007; Epstein, 1986). Interestingly, it has been shown that cross-race friendships do not dif-
fer significantly from same-race friendships in terms of friendship functions, except that they are rated
lower on intimacy (Aboud & Janani, 2007). Since intimacy represents an important friendship quality
arising in early adolescence, the lower intimacy in cross-race friendships may explain the higher level
of instability in this type of friendship compared to same-race friendships (Aboud & Janani, 2007).
Friendship features
Several reviews point to the idea that various friendship features affect friendship stability in
childhood and adolescence. First, research attests clearly that the quality of a friendship predicts
its stability. High quality friendships include high levels of positive features (e.g., intimacy, self-dis-
closure, prosocial behavior, self-esteem support) and low levels of negative features (e.g., conflicts,
F. Poulin, A. Chan / Developmental Review 30 (2010) 257–272 261
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dominance attempts, rivalry) (Berndt, 2002). A number of studies have reported a positive link be-
tween high friendship quality and stability (Berndt et al., 1986; Branje et al., 2007; Bukowski, Hoza,
& Boivin, 1994; Schneider et al., 1997). For example, compared to children with stable friendships,
those with unstable friendships give lower ratings for intimacy, have lower frequency of interaction,
and comment less often on their liking for their partners and more often on their partners’ disloyalty
or unfaithfulness (Berndt et al., 1986). Therefore, children who have trouble establishing a high
quality friendship are likely to experience a great deal of turnover in their friendships (Bukowski
et al., 1994).
Negative dimensions of friendship may also influence stability. For instance, high levels of conflict
have been linked to lower stability (Bukowski et al., 1994). Other researchers have suggested the fre-
quency of conflicts within a friendship may not be problematic per se, but rather the approach used by
friends to resolve conflicts may be more critical to determining stability. Indeed, the use of specific
conflict resolution strategies has been found to predict stability (Bowker, 2004). As such, the use of
confrontational and assertive strategies in response to friendship conflict has been found to help girls
maintain their friendships, whereas the tendency to minimize problems has been positively related to
friendship stability for boys (Bowker, 2004).
Contextual factors
The social context and environment of children and adolescents may play a role in affecting friend-
ship stability. As such, the context in which friendships take place, changes in the environment itself,
and cultural factors have all been found to influence the degree to which friendship relations are
maintained over time.
Friendship context
The majority of studies examined peer relationships within one context only: the school. Research
has established that the organizational and structural characteristics of the school environment,
including the school’s architectural features, the organization of students, and instructional methods,
can influence youths’ opportunities for interactions with friends (Epstein, 1989). Neckerman (1996)
demonstrated that when schools promoted classrooms as a unit from 1 year to another, 55% of social
networks remained stable, whereas only 7% of the networks were stable when schools did not pro-
mote classrooms as a unit. These results illustrate the importance of stability in the school environ-
ment in sustaining stable relationships (Neckerman, 1996).
In addition to the school context, mounting evidence shows that youths can have significant friend-
ship relations in nonschool contexts, such as the neighborhood, leisure activities, etc. (Kiesner, Poulin,
& Nicotra, 2003; Mahoney, 2000). This is particularly true in adolescence given that youths gradually
spend more time with their peers outside of home and school (Larson & Verma, 1999). More impor-
tantly, recent research has demonstrated that each context (school and nonschool) plays a unique role
in the child’s development. Indeed, a child is exposed to distinct behaviors in each of these experien-
tial niches and, as a result, each friendship network offers a differing learning experience (Kiesner
et al., 2003).
Interestingly, a large proportion of friendships may also be taking place both in school and outside
of school. Therefore, in addition to the initial school-only and nonschool-only contexts, adolescent
friendship networks are likely to include ‘‘multicontext” friendships defined as the simultaneous
involvement in both school and nonschool contexts. A recent study has shown that stability varies
according to the different contexts in which friendships take place. Findings revealed that multicon-
text friendships tend to be more stable than single-context friendships (school-only or nonschool-
only) (Chan & Poulin, 2007). Therefore, the simultaneous involvement in diverse friendship contexts
may represent a crucial factor in influencing stability. Other researchers have recognized that extend-
ing school-based friendships to nonschool settings could enhance friendship quality and intimacy,
thereby reinforcing its stability. The inverse is also plausible: Friendships that are already stable in
one context may extend to other contexts over time (Dubois & Hirsch, 1990; Thomas & Berndt,
2005). Overall, it is important to consider the ecology of friendship relations because each context
may bring its unique experience for the youth and affect their level of friendship stability.
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Changes in the environment
Several researchers have been interested in assessing friendship stability among students facing a
transition to high school (Berndt, 1989; Cantin & Boivin, 2004; Hardy et al., 2002). Findings from these
studies indicate that on average, the level of friendship stability decreases as students move to a new
school, with students concurrently losing friends and forming new ones immediately after the transi-
tion. Thus, a great level of instability seems to characterize youths’ friendships following a school tran-
sition. In the same vein, the work of Vernberg, Greenhoot, and Biggs (2006) examined the effect of
relocation to a new community on intimacy and companionship in adolescent friendships. Their re-
sults provide strong evidence that, compared to youths who remained residentially stable, youths
who relocate experience a lower level of intimacy and companionship in their friendships. Future
studies could extend on Vernberg et al.’s work and examine the link between relocation and friendship
stability among children and adolescents.
Culture
As a final point, friendship stability is likely to be influenced by cultural factors. A study comparing
the friendships of Italian and Canadian children observed a higher level of friendship stability among
the Italian children than among the Canadians over the school year (Schneider et al., 1997). The higher
stability among Italian children may be attributed to the lower levels of conflict reported by the chil-
dren in the Italian sample than in Canada. On the whole, little attention has been devoted to cultural
factors in the friendship literature and the scope of research remains large (Chen, French, & Schneider,
2006). For example, it will be interesting to compare different patterns in friendship stability between
countries that value individualism as opposed to collectivism.
Individual correlates of friendship stability
Research concerned with friendship stability raises important questions about individual differ-
ences. Indeed, significant variations in friendship stability may be observed from one individual to an-
other, in that some people may maintain very stable friendships, others may carry very unstable ones
and still others may present a level of stability in between. More importantly, these individual differ-
ences may not be random, but instead be associated to specific personal characteristics that contribute
to influence youths’ psychosocial adjustment. In the following section, three individual variables have
been related to friendship stability: (1) youths’ gender, (2) behavioral characteristics, such as internal-
izing and externalizing behavior, and (3) psychosocial adjustment.
Gender
Research has established that boys’ and girls’ interpersonal relationships differ from each other
in many respects (Rose & Rudolph, 2006). As such, boys and girls vary in their conception of
friendships. Boys tend to engage in activities with larger groups, which may consist of peers
who are acquaintances or playmates and not necessarily friends. Their interactions tend to be
activity-based and involve sports and games requiring multiple participants (Claes, 2003; Rose,
2007). In contrast, girls are inclined to be more exclusive in their friendships and are more likely
to interact in dyads or in small groups of friends (Eder & Hallinan, 1978). Because girls are more
relationship-oriented, girls’ friendships are also typically based on intimacy and disclosure of per-
sonal thoughts and feelings (Bukowski, Newcomb, & Hoza, 1987; Claes, 2003; Rose, 2007). Conse-
quently, gender differences in friendship patterns may lead girls to react more negatively when
faced with interpersonal stress. It has been shown that girls tend to be more distressed than boys
when imagining the potential termination of their friendships (Benenson & Christakos, 2003). Girls
also more easily change friends when they perceive a violation of friendship norms (Degirmencio-
glu et al., 1998).
The extent to which such gender differences extend to friendship stability, in particular, is unclear.
Several empirical studies did not find gender differences in friendship stability among children (Bern-
dt et al., 1986; Cairns et al., 1995) and adolescents (Degirmencioglu et al., 1998; Horrocks & Thomp-
F. Poulin, A. Chan / Developmental Review 30 (2010) 257–272 263
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son, 1946). Such findings support the notion that girls’ preference for exclusive relationships may
serve to maintain their friendships over time compared to boys (Berndt, 1982; Eder & Hallinan,
1978). However, in studies where gender differences in friendship stability were found, the balance
consistently leaned in favor of boys. In other words, evidence suggests that girls’ friendship stability
tends to be lower than boys’. Benenson and Christakos (2003) have shown that compared to males,
females’ friendships tended to be of a shorter duration (i.e., they were formed more recently) and they
reported more former friendships, i.e., friendships that had ended. These writers noted that girls’ need
for intimacy could make them extremely sensitive to potential distress within their friendships, and
this could lead to intense conflicts that possibly contribute to lowering girls’ levels of friendship sta-
bility compared to boys.
Behavioral characteristics
Internalizing behavior
In the literature, different indicators of internalizing behavior have been linked to friendship stabil-
ity, notably depressive symptoms, shyness/withdrawal and peer victimization. Theoretical models of
depression based on cognitive-interpersonal approaches have recently received heightened attention
in research and theoretical literature conceptualizing the link between youths’ friendship relations
and depressive symptoms (Rudolph & Clark, 2001; Rudolph, Hammen, & Burge, 1997). On one hand,
cognitive models of depression (Baldwin, 1992; Safran, 1990) presume that individuals who carry a
negative perception of their relationships may be at risk for depressive symptoms. Brendgen, Vitaro,
Turgeon, and Poulin (2002) have documented that, compared with well-adjusted children, depressed
children maintain a negatively biased view of their peer relationships. In other words, they perceive
lower friendship quality with their best friends and lower levels of peer group acceptance. On the
other hand, interpersonal models of depression (Coyne, 1976a, 1976b) illustrate a bidirectional link
between depressive behaviors and interpersonal difficulties. This model has been tested in a sample
of youth and findings have shown that depressive symptoms were associated with self-report mea-
sures of interpersonal problems, such as loneliness and rejection (Joiner, 1999). Moreover, in one re-
cent study, elevated depressive symptoms at one time point significantly predicted an increase in
friendship instability by the following month among an early adolescent sample. Specifically, partic-
ipants’ depressed mood appeared to be associated with instability in their best friendships (but not
secondary friendships) and in their school friendships (but not nonschool and multicontext friend-
ships) (Chan & Poulin, 2009). Last, several reviews have stressed that significant gender differences
in depression are evident by the middle of adolescence (i.e., between ages 15 and 18). A this age, fe-
males are twice as likely to be depressed as males (Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus, 1994; Wichstrom,
1999). Future studies should investigate if gender moderates the link between depression and friend-
ship instability among an older sample of adolescents. In this respect, it can be hypothesized that ado-
lescent girls who experience high levels of friendship instability would show higher levels of
depressive feelings compared to boys with similarly high levels of instability.
In addition to depression, investigators have also examined friendship stability among shy/with-
drawn children. Shy/withdrawn children seem to be as likely as nonwithdrawn children to have stable
best friendships over a school year, despite the lower quality of their friendships (Rubin et al., 2006). It
would be interesting to examine in future research stability in the friendship network of shy/with-
drawn children (not only their best friendship) as well as friendship stability among shy/withdrawn
adolescents. As Rubin et al. (2006) noted, social withdrawal may become more salient and negative
to peers with age, so that shy adolescents may experience greater difficulty in maintaining friendships.
Finally, experiences of peer victimization may be linked to friendship stability. A study has shown
that victimized children experience difficulty forming new friendships (Ellis & Zarbatany, 2007). When
both girls were victimized, the friendship remained relatively stable; when only one girl was victim-
ized, the friendship was more likely to be terminated (Ellis & Zarbatany, 2007). Another study has doc-
umented that children who maintain stable friendships displayed low levels of victimization
(Wojslawowicz et al., 2006). Conversely, children who lost friendships became more victimized over
time, whereas those who gained friendships over time became less victimized (Wojslawowicz et al.,
2006). Overall, these studies point to the idea that friendship stability may be associated with low
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levels of peer victimization in important ways—although the direction of such associations remain un-
clear. Another aspect peer victimization that would be relevant to examine in the future in link with
friendship stability could be the qualitative nature or the dynamics of bully/victim friendship dyads.
Externalizing behavior
Friendship stability is influenced by externalizing behavior in children and adolescents. On a the-
oretical level, the coercion model (Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992) posits that aggressive children are
often rejected by their peer group, which can lead them to be deprived of positive social experiences
with prosocial peers. Such deprivation may have an impact on the stability of the rejected children’s
friendships because they have fewer opportunities for developing the social skills required for sustain-
ing their relationships.
Overall, research established that the friendship stability of youths who display externalizing
behavior is lower compared to well-adjusted youths. A study comparing girls with attention deficit/
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and girls without ADHD revealed that the former exhibited difficulties
in making and maintaining friendships in contrast to the comparison group. Moreover, girls with
ADHD were more likely to have no friends and less likely to have multiple friends than the girls with-
out ADHD. Finally, it appeared that girls with ADHD had higher levels of negative friendship features
(e.g., conflict, relational aggression) than the comparison group, which may contribute to their friend-
ship difficulties (Blachman & Hinshaw, 2002). Another study suggested that both relational and overt
aggression predicted friendship instability among youths who had aggressive friends (Ellis & Zarbata-
ny, 2007). This study’s findings also suggested that aggressive children did not necessarily have
difficulty making new relationships, but had difficulty sustaining their friendships.
Similarly, research among antisocial adolescents reveals that although they have friends and are
central members of their social networks, their friendships tend to be lower in quality (Cairns, Cairns,
Neckerman, Gest, & Gariépy, 1988), of short duration, and end inappropriately (Dishion, Andrews, &
Crosby, 1995). More specifically, their friendships are more conflictual (Giordano, Cernkovich, & Pugh,
1986) and are characterized by the use of directives and negative exchanges (Dishion et al., 1995). Re-
search evidence also suggests the presence of a bidirectional link between antisocial behavior and
friendship instability. In one study, friendship instability predicted an increase in antisocial behavior
and, in return, antisocial behavior led to greater friendship instability among youths (Poulin, Dishion,
& Medici, 1998).
Psychosocial adjustment
Friendship stability has been found to be related to several indicators of social adjustment in child-
hood and adolescence. Friendship stability has been associated with higher levels of prosociality and
popularity (Berndt, 1989; Berndt et al., 1999), lower levels of loneliness (Parker & Seal, 1996), and low-
er levels of aggression and victimization (Wojslawowicz et al., 2006). Parker and Seal (1996) con-
ducted a study in which they identified four different trajectories for friendship stability and
formation. They found that children with different trajectories presented distinct behavioral profiles.
For example, children who rotated through friendships over time (i.e., low stability, high formation)
had both positive qualities that allowed them to attract others to them (e.g., sense of humor) and neg-
ative qualities that contributed to their difficulty sustaining relationships (e.g., aggressiveness). Alter-
natively, children who experienced a decline in the size of the friendship network (i.e., low stability,
low formation) exhibited prosocial characteristics, such as caring, sharing and honesty. Consequently,
children differed in the rate at which they lost friendships and formed new ones, and these individual
differences were associated with children’s personal characteristics (Parker & Seal, 1996). Along the
same lines, a study conducted by Wojslawowicz et al. (2006) examined the behavioral characteristics
associated with different patterns of friendship stability among children. Their findings suggest that
the stability of having any best friendship across time may be as important to children’s adjustment
as maintaining the same friendship over time and that best friendship loss is linked to increased
adjustment difficulties (Wojslawowicz et al., 2006).
Finally, friendship stability has been associated with school adjustment among young children. Re-
search among preschoolers has demonstrated that those who maintained their friendships liked
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school better as the year progressed and that making new friends in the classroom was associated
with gains in school performance (Ladd, 1990; Ladd & Price, 1987). Stable friendships thus allowed
children to view school in a favorable light, especially during the stressful school transition period
(Ladd & Price, 1987). In sum, friendship stability appears to contribute to school adjustment among
young children. Therefore, it would be pertinent to examine if friendship stability would be predictive
of higher academic achievement among school-age children and adolescents.
Future research
This review opens the door to other important questions that remain unanswered and that could
be the focus of future studies. More research needs to be conducted on friendship stability in order to
provide further support for the validity of this construct and to demonstrate its value in predicting
child and youth adjustment. An important question to keep in mind is whether friendship stability
is a good or a bad thing for development. Is it preferable to change friends on a frequent basis and
hence experience different friendship relations over time, or to keep the same friendships for a long
time? For instance, future work could assess the unique contribution of friendship stability to psycho-
social development, independent of other friendship dimensions, such as friendship quality or friends’
characteristics. At this point, it is unclear from the existing literature whether friendship stability is a
meaningful contributor to youth functioning even after controlling for other relationship dimensions.
It would also be useful to collect data covering several developmental periods (e.g., childhood and ado-
lescence) in order to distinguish the immediate, short-term and long-term outcomes of friendship sta-
bility. In addition, it would be interesting to examine the effects of stability according to the different
levels of friendships (e.g., best friends vs. members of the larger friendship network). Answers to these
important questions will be obtained by examining not only the negative, but also the positive out-
comes related to friendship stability.
Methodological issues
Three methodological issues require careful considerations in the assessment of friendship stabil-
ity: (1) the procedures used to collect friendship information, (2) the criteria used to define friend-
ships, and (3) the number of measurement waves and time intervals used in the assessment of
stability.
Procedures used to collect friendship information
Different procedures for collecting friendship data have been used in the literature. The most fre-
quently used methodology is the friendship nomination procedure in which participants are asked to
write down their friends’ names on a questionnaire (Degirmencioglu et al., 1998; Rubin et al., 2006), to
name their friends during an individual face-to-face interview (Benenson & Christakos, 2003; Cairns
et al., 1995) or to name their friends in a telephone interview (Chan & Poulin, 2007).
A related aspect of friendship research methodology to consider when using friendship nomina-
tions concerns the limit to the number of friendships. Some studies suggest that when an arbitrary
limit is imposed on the number of friends that participants can nominate (e.g., maximum of 3 or 10
friends), participants may feel constrained to nominate more (or fewer) friends than they actually
have (Berndt et al., 1986; Degirmencioglu et al., 1998; Rubin et al., 1998). By imposing a limit to
the number of friends, one may underestimate the actual level of stability because participants who
have, for example, more than three friends may not nominate the same three friends on different
assessment occasions.
Another friendship procedure involves sociometric nominations in which list of names are pro-
vided to participants and they choose a limited or unlimited number of friends from the list (Aboud
et al., 2003; Bowker, 2004; Ellis & Zarbatany, 2007; Parker & Seal, 1996; Schneider et al., 1997). Obser-
vations in school settings have also been used in few studies, mostly among kindergarten children
(Barbu, 2003; Martin & Fabes, 2001), but also among young adolescents (Pelligrini, 1994). However,
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these procedures may be limited in measuring the actual level of friendship stability since only school
friends can be assessed.
As for the assessment of friendship cliques, Cairns and his team have typically used the social-cog-
nitive map procedure. This technique involves the construction of a composite social map by combin-
ing information obtained across multiple respondents of the social networks in each classroom and
school (Cairns et al., 1995; Neckerman, 1996). Consequently, this procedure allows participants to pro-
vide information about the entire social network without being limited to describing their own per-
sonal circle of friends (Cairns et al., 1995). Taken as a whole, the choice of the procedure used to
obtain friendship data must be carefully considered because it may have an impact on the level of
friendship stability obtained.
Criteria in defining friendships
One important issue to consider in the study of friendship stability involves the criteria used to de-
fine ‘‘friendship”. Some experts claim that reciprocity is an inherent condition in defining a friendship
(Rubin et al., 1998). Indeed, reciprocity suggests that the friendship is genuine since its existence is
acknowledged by both sides, the child and the nominated friend. However, the reciprocity criterion
also has several shortcomings. Indeed, students who do not have reciprocated nominations in the
classroom could nonetheless have friendships in other classrooms or out of school. Therefore, the
use of reciprocal nominations does not allow the study of both school and nonschool friendships (Kies-
ner et al., 2003; Schneider, Wiener, & Murphy, 1994). Additionally, in the context of a longitudinal
study that includes multiple assessment waves, the probability that two participants nominate each
other at all waves is relatively low, considering the fact that most youths usually have more than
one friend in their network (Cairns et al., 1995). Consequently, the real level of stability may be under-
estimated when using reciprocal nominations.
Other investigators argue that subjective or self-reported friendships (i.e., acknowledged by the
child, but not necessarily by the friend) are important in their own right because they reflect an indi-
viduals’ own perception of his or her relationships. These perceived relationships may be influential in
the life of that individual, even if they do not fully correspond with objective interactions (Furman &
Buhrmester, 1985). Indeed, given that friendships are affective bonds by definition, it has been pro-
posed that the subjective importance of these relationships may affect youths’ attitudes or behaviors.
Perceptions of relationships may therefore constitute the most valid indices of their quality (Furman,
1996).
Evidence supporting this view is provided by a study showing that, regardless of friendship recip-
rocation, feelings of identification with peers were found to influence adolescents’ behavior and
adjustment (Kiesner, Cadinu, Poulin, & Bucci, 2002). Further, another study demonstrated that, over
a 1-year interval, teens without any reciprocated friendships were more influenced by the actions
of their self-reported friends than were teens who had reciprocated friendships (Aloise-Young, Gra-
ham, & Hansen, 1994). Therefore, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the subjective impor-
tance of a friendship exerts a strong influence on youths’ psychosocial adjustment.
Some studies have compared the stability of reciprocal and subjective friendships among children
and adolescents. When subjective criteria for stability were employed, high stability was generally
found in children’s friendships and social networks. In contrast, when reciprocal criteria were em-
ployed, only modest stability was observed in friendships and social networks (Cairns et al., 1995). In-
deed, it has been noted that if two participants were mutual friends in T1, their chances of being
mutual friends again 3 weeks later were low. But this does not mean that the relationship was entirely
ruptured. In fact, there is a high probability that at least one participant in a mutual friendship would
again nominate the other participant as a friend 3 weeks later, even when the choice was not recip-
rocated in T2 (Cairns et al., 1995). Another study conducted among an adolescent sample found few
differences between the reciprocated and nonreciprocated friendships with respect to perceived
friendship quality and use of conflict resolution strategies (Bowker, 2004). Therefore, it appears that
among adolescents, the distinction between unilateral and reciprocal friendships may be less critical.
The authors suggest that both types of friendships are important social ties and may represent friend-
ships at different stages of development.
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Number of measurement waves and time intervals in the assessment of stability
Some studies evaluated stability based on one wave of measurement by asking youths retrospec-
tively about the duration of their friendships (e.g., Benenson & Christakos, 2003; Dishion et al.,
1995). Yet, the majority of studies examining friendship stability have assessed friendships twice
within a 6-month interval (typically in the fall and spring over the course of a school year) (Aboud
et al., 2003; Berndt & Hoyle, 1985; Bowker, 2004; Degirmencioglu et al., 1998; Rubin et al., 2006;
Schneider et al., 1997; Wojslawowicz et al., 2006). Similarly, studies examining friendship cliques
have defined group stability as at least 50% of the members of the original group remaining together
between two time points (Cairns et al., 1995; Neckerman, 1996). In this way, only few studies have
measured stability by using three or more waves over a school year: (a) three waves (Berndt, 1989;
Berndt et al., 1999; Lee et al., 2007); (b) five waves (Bukowski & Newcomb, 1984; Chan & Poulin,
2007; Tuma & Hallinan, 1979); (c) six waves (Hardy et al., 2002); (d) seven waves (Eder & Hallinan,
1978).
In prior studies, the measure of stability is generally obtained by calculating the proportion of
friendships existing across two waves of measurement (e.g., T1–T2; T3–T4). One exception is found
in Chan and Poulin’s (2007) study in which the stability index attempted to capture the total
amount of change in adolescents’ friendship network over the 5-month period covered by the study.
This index was calculated by summing the total number of friendships renominated across the
5 months divided by the total number of friendships. This index was then transformed into a pro-
portion varying on a continuum between 0 (no stability in the network) and 1 (perfect stability
in the network) (Chan & Poulin, 2007). Other investigators have defined friendship stability as a cat-
egorical variable instead of a continuous one. For example, Parker and Seal (1996) distinguished four
group patterns of friendship stability and formation: (a) expansion (high stability, high formation);
(b) decline (low stability, low formation); (c) stable (high stability, low formation); (d) rotation (low
stability, high formation). Likewise, Wojslawowicz et al. (2006) included four friendship groups: (a)
stable with the same best friend, (b) stable with a different best friend, (c) friendship loss, and (d)
friendship gain.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that friendship instability is a common phenomenon, par-
ticularly in adolescence, whether it is over a short 3-week period (Cairns et al., 1995) or over a long-
term period of 1 year (Degirmencioglu et al., 1998). Therefore, children’s and adolescents’ friendships
are likely to change within intervals shorter than 6 months and hence, yearly longitudinal assessments
might not be able to track fluctuations in youth friendships (Dishion & Medici Skaggs, 2000). For these
reasons, it may be more adequate to assess temporal variations by including more than two waves of
measurement and using shorter time frames. Only rarely have studies assessed friendship stability
over several weeks (e.g., Cairns et al., 1995; Horrocks & Thompson, 1946; Parker & Seal, 1996)ora
few months (e.g., Chan & Poulin, 2007; Ellis & Zarbatany, 2007). Indeed, short interval measurements
are challenging to researchers and participants due to methodological limitations such as cost and
intrusion.
In sum, the study of stability and change in friendships constitutes a large theoretical and meth-
odological challenge. Clearly, innovative methodologies are needed in order to deal with past con-
straints. One recent study has demonstrated that monthly telephone interviews constitute an
effective method for collecting friendship data (Chan & Poulin, 2007). These interviews were struc-
tured, brief (approximately 15 min in duration) and had a low level of intrusiveness for participants.
A low attrition rate (only 6%) was obtained during the period covered by the study. As such, short
interval measurements remain a promising avenue for future research. Indeed, it would be interest-
ing to capture youths’ friendship stability across weekly or even daily intervals, applying methods
such as the experience sampling method in which participants are paged at random times of the
day (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1987). In this method, participants are asked to answer a series
of brief questions related to their activities, their emotional states and their companions immedi-
ately upon being paged (Richards, Crowe, Larson, & Swarr, 1998). The approach of studying change
using short interval assessments is likely to contribute greatly to an understanding of the short-term
interactional processes by which children’s and adolescents’ friendships evolve over time and affect
their development.
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Conclusion
This review emphasizes the importance of the temporal parameters of children’s and adolescents’
friendships. In past research, friendships have tended to be considered to be static entities that are
fixed across time, yet friendship relations represent dynamic systems in constant evolution that
change even over very short time intervals. Therefore, friendship research would greatly benefit from
examining stability as an individual difference variable and assessing stability through a short-term
framework.
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Peers are critical to defending and bystanding during episodes of bullying. This study investigates the extent to which friends can shape defending and bystanding as well as social cognitions associated with these two behaviors (i.e., perceptions of self-efficacy and moral distress). The study sample consisted of n = 1354 early and middle adolescents (7th‒10th grade; 81.4% Italian; 51.3% boys) in northern Italy. Employing a longitudinal social network analytic approach, using stochastic actor-oriented modeling, this study found that adolescents become more similar or stay similar to their friends in both behaviors and perceptions, with no clear indication that students select friends based on similar levels of behaviors or perceptions. The findings illustrate how defending and bystanding behaviors and related social cognitions are developed within friend networks.
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We use panel data on schoolchildren's friendship choices to investigate the effects of sex, race, and academic achievement on the formation of new friendships and on the stability of existing friendships. Cross-sectional analysis of the data reveals commonly expected associations: a child's friendship choices are positively associated with being the same sex and race as the other child and with having a similar achievement level. Panel analysis of the data suggests ways that these cross-sectional associations may arise. Although the stability of existing friendships is significantly affected by the children's characteristics, the formation of new friendships appears to be almost random, except for a positive effect of their being the same sex. Further, the status value of characteristics in the larger society does not seem to influence changes in friendship choices. Characteristics of children appear to affect friendship changes mainly because children tend to favor those like (or similar to) themselves on a characteristic. There is an important exception. Children's being the same race does not significantly influence changes in friendship choices when their achievement is controlled. The effects of race are limited to a tendency of black children to form and maintain friendships more readily than nonblack children.