Friendship is described as the emotional bond that a child establishes with one or more peers or younger or older children. Interactions between children form the basis of their friendships. Characteristics such as speaking ability, possessing prosocial behaviors, and aggressiveness are influential in making friends. The first relationships with friends are formed through adult-guided games in the early years. Starting from the early educational period, children recognize their peers, have short-term interactions with them, show a preference for peers of their own gender, and develop prosocial behaviors (Önder 2005). As children grow older, the time they spend with their peers increases and their peer preferences, acceptance, rejection, and popularity become evident. Friendships also develop with the increase in cooperation and development of social skills. Children who do not have sufficient social skills are more often excluded from peer relationships, that is, they have difficulty in being accepted by their peers (Gülay 2009). It was found in a study that children with high reactiveness had behavioral problems including higher levels of anger and aggression, while the children with adequate social skills were preferred more by their peers (Öneren Şendil 2010). Parents, adults, and educators have an important place in a child’s life providing significant contributions to a child’s social development. In a study conducted by Uyan-Semerci and colleagues (2012) on children aged eight to twelve years old, it was determined that the children who had a friendly teacher and concerned, affectionate, and sensitive parents were happier in their friendship relationships. In short, friendship is transformed from the activity of playing a spontaneous game together in the early period of development to an activity based on friend preference and cooperation.
Friendships develop by playing together and performing activities in the first one to two years of life (Berk 2011; Gülay and Akman 2009). Speaking supports a child’s acceptance by their peers and ensures that they develop solutions involving compromise for any conflicts (Gülay and Akman 2009).
In this period, games are the most serious activities for children and, together with speaking skills they ensure friend relationships are established, supported, and sustained. In a study conducted to determine who six-year-old children played with, information was obtained from mothers and it was determined that they played games with their friends (Erbay and Durmuşoğlu Saltalı 2012).
Several studies investigating the friendships of five-to-six-year-old children in Turkey have reported that male children were more aggressive and more mobile while female children were more likely to exhibit social behaviors for helping others (Atış Akyol 2015; Gülay 2008; Uluyurt 2012). Studies investigating how peer relationships of five-year-old children are affected by the educational levels of parents showed that positive social skills increase as the educational levels of parents increase (Gülay 2008). Similarly, scores for exclusion, hyperactivity, and exposure to peer violence decrease as the educational levels of parents increase (Uluyurt 2012). In a study investigating the connection between peer relationships and readiness for primary education conducted by Polat and Atış Akyol (2016), positive relationships were found between the children’s social behavior in peer relationships and school readiness in math skills, science skills, phonological awareness, drawing skills, cognitive and language development, social-emotional development, physical development, and self-care skills. The importance of friendship for preschool children is supported by the educational system in Turkey; there are many learning outcomes in current programs to encourage friendship development. For example, children showing interest in their peers, choosing a playmate, and playing with their peers in the birth to three years program and participating in group games, trying to solve social problems, and explaining the feelings of others in the three to six years program (Ministry of National Education [MoNE] 2013a, 2013b).
As in preschool educational programs, there are also learning outcomes for developing friendships in primary education programs. The learning outcomes are determined according to the development characteristics of students from the first grade to the fourth grade. These learning outcomes start with recognizing friends and identifying their characteristics, and continue with understanding the importance of helping each other in friendships, behaving well to friends (not victimizing), and peer tutoring (MoNE 2007, 2009).
Children of school age can describe the meaning of “friend” concept in their minds. Gündoğdu (2003) stated that third, fourth, and fifth grade students described a “friend” as being good, honest, and hardworking. The children’s descriptions of a friend guided their friend preferences. Eğercioğlu (2008) conducted a study on peer acceptance with third, fourth, and fifth grade students and found that “cooperation” was an important factor in peer acceptance. Children expand their horizons beyond the family unit thanks to the friendships established during this period and gain experience on the outside world. Uşaklı (2006) reduced aggressive and timid behaviors in children through a drama-based group guidance program applied to fifth class students and strengthened their friendships. In early childhood children are nonjudgemental about who they play with, however in the last period of childhood (eight to twelve years of age), children tend to be more selective in who they choose to play and talk to, thus being considered popular becomes more important to children at this stage. Commitment to team goals and cooperation may prevail over individual preferences (Yavuzer 2004). Some studies show that, by being supported with peer education, this developmental feature of children contributes to academic success. In studies conducted by Olgun (2011), it was seen that cooperative teaching including self and peer assessment practices combined with science and technology courses increased students’ academic achievement, attitudes, and cognitive skills.
The social and emotional characteristics and social competence of the individual have an important place in the development of friendships. The characteristics of a socially competent individual are self-expression, self-confidence, being accepted by peers, supportive social environment, and social independence (Akkök 1999). Çubukçu and Gültekin (2006) determined the social skills needed by primary school students by reviewing the opinions of teachers. In this study it was found that teachers give priority to the ability to start and maintain friendship relations, to do business with groups, to make plans, and to solve problems. In a study conducted by Kara (2003) on the social skill perceptions of primary school teachers and students, it was determined that social skill perception of students showed statistically significant difference according to socio-economic level variables. Again, in a study conducted by Çivitçi and Çivitçi (2009) on perceived social skills, it was seen that perceived social skills decrease as the number of irrational beliefs increase. Uz Baş (2003) also conducted a study and found that social skills and the relationship between school adjustment and depression levels were significantly different. In conclusion, it is seen that social skills are important factors in an individual’s self-efficacy and if these skills are missing, an individual will have problems in establishing emotional and social relationships, maintaining relationships, and coping with problems when experiencing difficulties. Social interaction is an indispensable and universal part of human life.
Along with the positive social behaviors in friendships, behaviors that may cause conflict can be observed (Beyazkürk, Anlıak, and Dinçer 2007). Conflict situations are also seen as opportunities to acquire basic social skills such as empathy and problem solving skills in peer relationships. However, problems arise when these conflicts acquire a victimization dimension. In a bullying report prepared by the Wise Woman Research Center (WWRC) (2015), it was stated that the bullying level was high in schools in Turkey. In the same report, it was emphasized that “Bullying does not only decrease the quality of education and distort the peace environment in school. It is a serious danger that disturbs the psychological and physical health of children and young people, hinders their development and threatening the future of the society.”
Most of the studies conducted on peer culture focused on the results (negative and positive) of experience with peers on individual development. The studies regard children’s active participation and peer cultures as public, collective, and performative. In line with this opinion, peer culture is described as a series of stable activities or routines, works, values, and concerns that children produce and share in interaction with their peers (Corsaro 2018). Peers and peer culture include positive and negative aspects such as rejection and victimization as well as support, entertainment, and creativeness. In conclusion, peer interaction and cultures depend on media use and consumer culture, and are influenced by them. For example, according to Yanık (2011), the preferences of male children for Spiderman, Ben Ten, and war games form the basis of their peer culture. In short, the efforts, interests, and attitudes of peers play an important role in their interaction. In this regard, their media and social environment determine their peer culture.
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Established to carry out national education services in line with development plans and programs. The education programs prepared by the ministry are sent to all schools to be implemented at every level of education in Turkey.