“Until the age of about 10 I had lots of friends, but they weren’t the center of my life. Then from around the time I went to high school, they started to be the people I was closest to. I mean, I’m still close to my mom, and she’s the person I’d go to if I had a really big problem, but for all the ordinary stuff that happens on ordinary days, I talk to my friends.
My parents are really busy, and when I talk about having a test at school it doesn’t mean the same to them as it does to my friends. My mom will say, ‘Oh, well, try your best’ if I say I haven't studied enough. But my friend will understand how I’m all nervous about it, and also that I probably have done tons of studying but I’m scared it’s not going to be enough. I guess my friends are living the same sort of life as me, and that’s what makes them so important.”
Jessie, 14, Mexico
“I’ve got five best friends – three of them were in elementary school with me, and two I met in high school. They’re the closest people in my life after my parents – my only sister is 24, so she’s much older than me and her life is very different. My friends are more like my sisters – most of the time they’re either at my house or I’m at one of theirs. We usually have a sleepover on the weekend.
My parents almost consider my friends to be their other daughters, and I feel like another daughter at my friends’ houses. It’s really special, and I don’t think the boys I know have anything as close a bond with their male friends as we do.
We talk about literally everything, but mostly it’s what’s happening at home, what famous people we’re interested in, what bands we like. It’s all great until there’s a falling out, and then – wham! I’m so sad. I can’t think about schoolwork or anything else until we’ve worked things out.”
Isabella, 14, Brazil
“When you start high school, it’s all about finding your group, that bunch of girls you really identify with and feel at home with. So when I get to school in the morning, the first thing I do is find my group. There are five of us altogether – two of us went to one elementary school and the other three went to another. I do talk to girls in other friendship groups, and we’re not at war with them or anything, but it’s the girls in my group who I most want to see and be with.
We all like to look the same. Each morning, when we’re getting dressed, someone will message everyone else to say, ‘I’m wearing shorts today’ or ‘I’m wearing pants.’ And that way we’ll all show up looking the same.”
Evie, 13, Australia
“Each person in your group has a different role: I’m the peacemaker person, so people come to me if there’s a fight. Someone else might be the funny one, or the smart one. If someone leaves your group, you have to find someone else to take on that role – or else people change a bit, because you always need someone who’s funny, or someone who can break up fights.”
Issy, 11, UK
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, but 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.