2.2 Relationships

Relationships - with family and with peers - play an important part of development through our lives, and they are an important component of connected learning. Mentoring relationships with other adults can have a powerful impact on the personal, professional, and academic lives of young people (see the Mentoring module for more).

Tween Relationships

Excerpt from LIS 516: Youth Development and Behavior in a Digital Age by Dr. Katie Davis and the University of Washington


Dr. Katie Davis, University of Washington

Although tweens are still dependent on their caregivers, at this age youth begin to focus on social interactions with friends. They begin spending more time with their friends and less time with their parents or other caregivers as they begin to form their own identities in relation to others. Characteristics of tween relationships include:

  • Friendships form with people perceived to be similar. Tweens often form friendships with people of the same gender or age, or who participate in the same activities.
  • Friends are instrumental. A friend is someone to share activities with.
  • Cliques begin to emerge. Cliques help tweens form their identities. Group membership means shared attitudes, beliefs, and values. Cliques provide identification and validation, starting to erode parents’ roles as the main authority figures.
  • Social aggression surfaces. Around age 12, popularity hierarchies develop as tweens begin to compare themselves to social standards. Bullying begins as youth become concerned with defining who is “in” or “out” of the group.



Excerpt from LIS 516: Youth Development and Behavior in a Digital Age by Dr. Katie Davis and the University of Washington


Dr. Katie Davis, University of Washington

In childhood, parents’ authority is unilaterally applied and children may have little say in decision-making. As youth move into adolescence, the relationship between youth and their caregivers becomes reorganized. Teens start to view their parents as imperfect individuals, rather than as all-knowing figures. Parental authority becomes limited to certain areas, and teens take part in more decision making.

The process of finding a balance between separation and connection is called individuation.1 Teens begin to move away from dependence, but still remain connected to their parents. It’s important for parents to provide teens some separation and space to have a private life, but they do not require total separation.

Teens and Caregivers

Parents and caregivers have multiple roles to play in teens’ lives to support their individuation process.1

  • Instrumental support enables separation. Giving career advice, helping with schoolwork, and other instrumental activities help teens grow more independent from their parents.

  • Emotional support provides the closeness and connection that teens still need to have with their parents.

These roles have often fallen along traditional gender lines (fathers providing instrumental support, with emotional support coming from mothers). However, there is growing recognition that these roles are fluid, and different types of caregivers can support teens’ individuation in different ways. What is important is that teens have people they can turn to for both emotional and instrumental support.


Teens with siblings often spend more time with them than with their parents. Teens may serve as gatekeepers or teachers of cultural knowledge and practical skills for their younger siblings. These relationships also provide youth with a testbed to practice social behaviors, such as conflict resolution.

Tweens and Peers

Excerpt from LIS 516: Youth Development and Behavior in a Digital Age by Dr. Katie Davis and the University of Washington


Dr. Katie Davis, University of Washington

During the teen years, youth begin to spend more time with their peers than with their caregivers.

  • Friendships become less instrumental. Teens learn about themselves and who they are through peer interaction. As they mature, the concept of a friend becomes less about shared activities and more about shared values. Respect, trust, and symmetrical reciprocity become central.
  • Best friendships or “chumships” are highly influential. These friendships feature intimacy and self-disclosure.2 Girls’ chumships tend to develop earlier and feature a greater degree of intimacy than boys’.
  • Teens find themselves as part of “the crowd.” Along with cliques, the concept of “the crowd” and which one a teen fits into begins to emerge. Many of these crowds are imposed by stereotypes — the jocks, the geeks, the goths. But as teens get older, their ties to cliques and crowds may begin to loosen, allowing them to move beyond their groups.

Peer Conflict

Excerpt from LIS 516: Youth Development and Behavior in a Digital Age by Dr. Katie Davis and the University of Washington


Dr. Katie Davis, University of Washington

  • Social aggression appears around ages 11 or 12. Peer conflict arrives along with the cliques, crowds, and social hierarchies, often leading to bullying as it becomes more important to figure out who is in or out of a social group.

  • Conflict decreases as adolescence progresses. As youth begin to stabilize their sense of identity, relying less on their social groups to define their identity, peer conflict tends to decrease.


In what ways do you see relationships developing at the library? 


A central feature of a “chumship” is:

  • Individuality
  • Self-disclosure
  • Conformity
  • Similarity
A central feature of a “chumship” is self-disclosure.

1: Youniss, J., & Smollar, J. (1985). Adolescent relations with mothers, fathers, and friends. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

2: Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.