Adolescence is a period when dramatic changes occur in the way young people look, think and behave. From early to late adolescence, changes also occur in the structure and function of personal relationships. In particular, relationships with peers and friends take on new and significant meanings. It is important to examine the role of peer relationships as factors in personal and social development.
This thesis considers the multiple dimensions of peer relations and how they vary in nature and function. At the simplest level, individuals will experience different degrees of acceptance by members of various social groups with which they attempt to associate and they will be allowed different levels of involvement as a consequence. Questions on the various levels of relationships and inter-relationships, their functions and structures, are yet to be fully answered. This thesis explores the multidimensionality of peer interactions
as well as the changes that occur from early to late adolescence. Middle adolescence is accompanied by a greater rate of change in personal and social development, individual variability, and an increasing interest in the opposite sex. Nevertheless, in this sample of adolescents, same-sex friendships continued to hold a strong position regardless of the increasing interest of group members in the opposite sex. Conflicts appeared as pairing increased and began to affect the structure of existing friendship groups. Conflicts of various types were resolved successfully in close friendships as peers valued maintaining the relationship.
The main objective of this thesis is to provide descriptive information on some aspects of the adolescent's complex world where friendship groups formed, dissolved, and reformed. These friendship groups were nestled within other peer groups to form networks. How these networks were constructed and deconstructed, how groups accepted
or rejected members, and the various functions groups served were further explored in this thesis.
The advantages of adolescent friendship were first assigned a key developmental role by Harry Stack Sullivan in 1953 in his interpersonal theory of development. He posited that friendships satisfy the human need for intimacy while assisting the development of important social skills and competencies. More specifically, Sullivan proposed that close one-on-one friendships or chumships prevent loneliness and help enhance self-esteem. He believed this relational base was reflected in later intimate heterosexual relationships.
On the basis of this and other research evidence this thesis recognises the importance of peer relationships and the need for relevant studies to document the implications of friendship during adolescence. Specifically it discusses selection, acceptance or rejection by peers in larger groups. It indicates that there is
very little research on Australian adolescents, their interpersonal relationships or networks and how these may influence the development of social competence and successful and satisfying relationships in later adulthood. Breakdowns in adolescents' social networks will lead to problems in mental health, and social behaviour and will inhibit academic progress. Given the importance of social adjustment for young people, social development in adolescence has not been given the importance it needs by educators.