Why are friends important in teenage girls' lives?
What comes across from all the girls we’ve spoken to, is that friendships are central to their lives. At this age they usually form a close bond with three, four or five girls, and all around them other groups of girls are forming.
Families and parents still matter, but their friends are the people who share their everyday experiences.
This isn't just a phase – it’s a biological need. The hormonal changes they’re going through spark their social skills, and they ‘crave’ the security of female friendship.
Maintaining their friendships is fundamental to how adolescent girls see themselves and how successful they believe they are.
As parents, it’s important not to belittle your daughter’s relationship with her pals. Don't say her time with her friends is unimportant, or complain about how long she spends with them or how much they communicate when they’re apart.
You may need to rein in your daughter at times (if, for example, she’s texting through a family meal). But be aware that being connected is vitally important in her world.
Girls and their friendships: what experts say
Psychologist Dr JoAnn Deak, who has written extensively on girls and their development, says that while parents see their daughters’ relationships with their teenage friends as 'overwhelming', the girls themselves tend to see them as 'overriding'.
Some experts call girls’ friendship groups 'cliques' or 'tribes', but Dr Deak thinks of this as 'the wet butterfly stage'. Until this point, girls have been cocooned in their family relationship and, with adolescence they’re suddenly cocoon-less. It’s exciting, but it’s also scary and shaky.
Girls at this stage, she says, have wet and fragile wings, so to protect themselves, they surround themselves with other 'wet butterflies'. “They cluster together and need to act alike, talk alike and look alike for the protective camouflage it provides,” she says.
Our own expert Dr Tara Cousineau says, “Girls are inherently relational. They manage their stress by using a coping strategy called ‘tend and befriend’. It’s a survival strategy, for females in particular, in addition to the natural fight or flight response that all humans have. This is another lens through which to view girls’ cliques. For many girls, being accepted by a group is a way to protect one’s self-esteem, especially in the vulnerable years of early adolescence."
To protect privacy we’ve changed the names of people whose stories we tell on these pages, but the stories are genuine.