Dangerous friends: how relationships in youth hurt us


How often in our childhood parents said: “Do not be friends with Petya, he does not suit you.” Or: “Light is affecting you wrong.” Many of us were forbidden to be friends with certain guys from the yard or classmates. More often adults were guided by the desire to protect us from bad influence, saved us from bad companies. But is this always what parents need to pay attention to? After all, there are much more dangerous pitfalls of teenage friendship.

A joke of psychologists has long been in use that every child, no matter how much his mom and dad loved, there will always be something to tell the therapist. Each of us has a list of complaints about significant adults. But many have received traumatic experiences in childhood, not only from parents, but also from peers. Yes, friendship can be a very stressful experience in adolescence. But it can be a resource.

Friends are our second ego

Longing for close friends is almost as old as humanity itself. Already in the oldest literary work in history, written by cuneiform writing more than 4000 years ago – the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, tells about the friendship between the god-king Gilgamesh and the ordinary person Enkidu. Even in ancient times, the close relationship of two friends was one of the most important topics of rhetorical art. “What is a friend? Another ego. Two souls in one, ”Cicero wrote of his best friend Atticus.

Sometimes friends are comrades in common affairs, those who support us in development and self-improvement, important helpers in everyday life, and often even those who save us in trouble. Often we find them in our youth, and they accompany us to maturity. Sometimes they are even more important to us than the family.

“Friendship is one of the central stages of social cohesion,” says sociologist Heinz Bude. Researchers have been arguing about the definition of friendship for a long time and have not yet come to a consensus. Some mean friendship as a voluntary personal relationship based on mutual sympathy, trust and support, but not on kinship or sexual relations.

At this age, everything is hypertrophied. If friendship, then forever, if resentment, then mortal

However, communication can be as close and strong as with a partner or with brothers and sisters. We can have friends in sports, games in the yard, business or university.

Social psychologist Beverly Fehr from the University of Winnipeg Canada has been studying how friendships arise and develop since the 1990s. “When two people first meet, they first talk a little about themselves,” says Fer. If the first contact is pleasant, we gradually reveal more. “In the early stages of friendship, it is important that our sincerity and frankness are mutual.”

Only when both parties to a relationship are at risk do their trust develop. In youth and youth, best friends play a particularly important role. They help to overcome the turbulence of puberty and, unlike parents, share a desire for personality.

Between the ages of 13 and 25, a “best friend forever” is essential. In this period, it is friends – our main support and a prerequisite for socialization. The Shell Shell Youth Study, conducted three years ago, showed that 89 percent of young people find it particularly important to have good friends – their position in the respondents’ answers was higher than that of the “family” or the desire for a “responsible life”.

Dangerous friends: how relationships in youth hurt us

The consequences for years to come

That is why adolescents and young people so painfully perceive even a small quarrel with a friend or girlfriend. “At this age, everything is hyperbolized, hypertrophied. If friendship, then forever, if resentment, then mortal, continues Beverly Fer. – Teenagers are like bare wires – sparkle instantly, perceive everything very close to the heart. This is the period when everything is painted either white or black.

Against this background, bullying is especially dangerous, which today has several varieties, two of them are the main ones: bullying (systematic physical or psychological violence by one person) and mobbing (bullying by the team). The phrase in the Whats-App-Gruppenchat chat sounds very painful for the 12-year-old Marius: “Oh, just lie down under the train and help us all with this,” writes his classmate Luka. “He would do himself and the world a favor,” picks up another classmate. “Jumping from the bridge will do, too. But his gut is thin for that. ”

The reason for this bullying is commonplace. Obviously, Marius quite often shows himself brightly in the classroom, he is too noticeable. The proposals of classmates have only one goal – to destroy Marius. And, it seems, not only in a figurative sense. And if your friend suits you or plays along with her, with whom you shared secrets yesterday and believed as yourself? Young people perceive this as a deadly betrayal.

For some victims of bullying, this burden is so unbearable that they develop serious mental disorders at an early age.

British researchers have confirmed that young victims of bullying continue to suffer years later. In a paper published in The BMJ Journal, they found that one in three young people in the UK who were depressed was bullied in childhood. In the dissertation, the researchers described a large-scale project that they implemented in the 1990s in the English city of Bristol, with a population of 14,500.

Respondents were asked questions about their health. Among other things, 4,000 young people aged 13 years were interviewed, and then again at the age of 18 years – this time it was about the presence of signs of depression. Of the 683 respondents who claimed to have been harassed at least once a week at the age of 13, nearly 15 percent had depression at the age of 18. This proportion was three times higher than other 18-year-olds who did not experience bullying in childhood.

The victims of bullying were children who were expelled from the peer community, slandered, robbed, threatened, blackmailed or even beaten. When researchers added other factors to the analysis, such as behavioral problems or family difficulties, the relationship between peer harassment and depression was less pronounced. However, the proportion of young victims of bullying who subsequently became depressed was twice as high among these respondents as others.

Mobbing provokes disease

According to a study published in the American journal Psychological Science in 2013, even serious illnesses, failures in professional life, and reduced social contacts can be long-term consequences of bullying. In a large-scale study, psychologists examined the life experiences of 1,420 participants – first at the age of 9 to 16 years, and then at the age of 24 to 26 years.

These studies showed that those who experienced bullying in childhood, at adulthood, were at greater risk of getting a serious somatic or mental illness.

According to the German Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, up to 30 percent of children and adolescents in Germany are subjected to insults, harassment and humiliation, are in a difficult position and isolation.

For some victims of bullying, this burden is so unbearable that at an early age they develop serious mental disorders. According to a study published last year by the Baden-Württemberg State Institute of Communications in Stuttgart, Internet mobbing has also increased among adolescents.

17 percent of 12–19-year-olds said that he or she had already received incorrect or abusive messages. According to scientists, more than 30 percent of the cases of depression diagnosed in the study may be associated with bullying and humiliation in childhood.

Researchers recommend timely intervention in such incidents in the lives of children and adolescents. “It can help reduce the burden of depression in later life.”

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