Consumer Research Reports, Education

How Do Children Choose Their Friends?

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“My life is missing a time / Your laughter is missing, I’m bored / I miss you, my friend, my alter ego,” sang Jean-Louis Aubert in 2001. If this song by Jean-Louis Aubert is little known to children – and is often associated with “something old-fashioned” as they pleasantly pointed out to me during a music lesson – its title and chorus are very present in their daily reality.

This is particularly the case when they amuse themselves by classifying their comrades by level of affinity in categories as different, precise, and hierarchical as “best or true friend,” “friend,” “friend,” or “just friend.”. ”

Like those of adults, children’s affective and friendly practices are far from democratic. Boys and girls find it very difficult to recognize that they can “fall friend or even fall best friend” (sic) of everyone, regardless of their age, gender, favorite recreational activities, or even their appearance.

Mixed friendships are rare.

In love as in friendship, the alter ego’s figure emerges very quickly from childish sociability analysis. The majority of children forge links with children who resemble them in their main ways, that is, in those that most obviously distinguish and prioritize the playground, namely sex, and age.

Being of the same age and being of the same sex appear to be the two main conditions necessary for the formation of childish emotional bonds. Without one of them, no friendship and a fortiori no better friendship possible. They constitute the first modalities from which the children can then elect and select their buddies or “favorite friends” based on various evaluation criteria and judgments.

Whatever their age, children most often report having boyfriends and friends of the same sex as themselves: this is the case for nearly six out of ten girls (in the schools and extracurricular centers studied) and seven boys. On ten. The proportion, for both sexes, increases to 80% when it comes to their best friends.

More surprisingly, they are only 20% to indicate having mixed friendships, that is to say, to declare having a group of friends made up of as many friends of the opposite sex as the same and only 10% to have as many best friends as best friends.

How to explain this strong tropism of children towards their comrades of the same sex? Two main answers emerge from their remarks. The first, the most frequent, refers to prosaic reasons and, more broadly, to the functioning of childish friendships.

It is difficult to become (a better) friend of a child when you do not share the same tastes, the same games, and the same activities when there is no favorable ground for developing a relationship that is even slightly sustained in time. However, boys and girls alike agree that the others “play too bad games,” which are “not funny” and “that we are always bored [when we are] with them. Besides, they annoy us.”

The second reason generally mentioned lip service. Still, just as important, is the risk that both of them run the risk of remaining peacefully, without showing boredom or embarrassment, in a small group mainly made up of children of the ‘other sex, namely that of being “treated as a lover” or even in love with a bad person, as Marion reports (CE2, upper classes):

“Already, as soon as we played with a boy and there were some who said: ‘Ah, you’re in love’. Yes, for example, Elsa, by making the hawk, Elsa, she was a cat with Hugo and there, I think it is Léa, Sandra and you see well they started to say: “Ah, you are in love”, because that they were next. And as soon as we have a lover, they say: “Oh! Shame !”. “

The weight of class and age

Beyond a concordance of sex, childish friendly relations are characterized by a very strong hemophilia in age, and more precisely in school level. Almost 90% of boys and girls say that most of their boyfriends or their girlfriends are in the same class as them. Conversely, very few of them mention having many friends in classes larger than theirs (29%) and even less in indicating them in smaller classes (19%).

When asked about this phenomenon, the children indicate that it is “because the grown-ups never allow them to play with them, except when they lack people to play football or to have a chat. But otherwise, they only play with the adults. They don’t want us because we are too small and don’t know how to play football or a cat! »(Christophe, CE2, middle classes).

This association between too small and not good enough or strong enough to “have the right” to play – and therefore to be friends – with the older ones is also found in the words of Mathias (CP, working-class), who explains that he could not be friends “with those older than” him “because they play games which are too complicated.”

In other words, if it is tough for children to become friends and best friends with children who are not their age or do not belong to their gender class, it is because they stake their reputation and their place in the playground.

By playing with smaller children or friends of the opposite sex, they risk not only being laughed at, treated as lovers, “wanting to make ‘their’ big” or worse “baby cadmium,” but above all see devalued by being associated with the repulsive figures of babies, boys, and especially girls.

These symbolic sanctions, extremely present in play times, therefore remind children of the rules of friendly feelings and the need to respect their age and gender. However, they do not impose themselves so strongly on everyone.

It is especially the boys and the older ones – as “kings of the court” (sic) – who have the most to lose as it is more insulting and demeaning to be sent back to babies and girls. Then boys and adults, emphasizing the early existence of hierarchies and inequalities of age and sex.

The implicit role of adults

The ways of choosing friends do not depend solely on children, their choice, or children’s cultures; they are linked to the world of adults in at least three ways. First, if boys and girls are more likely to be friends with peers of the same age and sex as themselves, it is because education professionals tend to bring them together. Gender and school level, including during extra – or extracurricular activities.

Children of the same age and the same sex spend more time together and therefore have the opportunity to meet, discuss, and form strong bonds with each other.

Second, adults help, often without realizing it, to promote gender and age norms that differentiate and prioritize children. By distinguishing, for example, the games or activities of adults, children, girls, and boys according to their level of difficulty or physical involvement, they make it difficult to mix entertainment or even encourage children to stand out to lend—allegiance to their age or sex.

Finally, adults play on children’s emotional choices to the extent that their judgments and remarks act as true indicators of children’s intrinsic worth.

By labeling some children as intelligent, beautiful, or funny and others as dirty, painful, brawling, or dissipated, they largely influence the reputation and rank of children in the playground and thus orient the friendly market.

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