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Friendship and Peer Cultures in Childhood (Mexico)

Friendship and Peer Cultures in Childhood (Mexico)
by Heidi Fritz-Macías

Heidi Fritz-Macías is an academic at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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DOI: 10.5040/9781474209489.0024

  • Editor(s):
    Armando Alcantara (Regional Editor), Marco Antonio Delgado (Regional Editor) and William A. Corsaro (Editor in Chief)
  • Publisher:
    Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
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In Mexico, research into friendship among children is scarce. Friendship is more frequently studied in teenagers, particularly those with disabilities, as researchers and teachers aim to promote friendships within this vulnerable population. The most frequently used theories are sociology of children, social constructivism, social learning, the ecological systems theory, and a postmodern approach to the study of childhood, peer cultures, and pedagogical documentation.

Conceptions of friendship

Currently, Mexican families living in cities and middle-income groups tend to give their young children some degree of autonomy to initiate friendships with other children, although parents have a large influence on their decisions and how they relate to one another. Parents tend to encourage their children to make friends with their own friends’ children. Naturally, school is the other social space where children socialize. Families create opportunities for developing friendships, enjoyment, and playing with other children (Fritz-Macías 2016).

Families tend to provide a model for the way children establish their own friendships, and tend to encourage or hinder the creation and strengthening of those friendships. Siblings can also develop friendships when these are based on nonhierarchical relationships and camaraderie (Araiza 2005). According to the Mexican Statistics Institute (INEGI 2014), families tend to be smaller than in the past: on average, women have 2.21 children, and a significant number of children are their parents’ only child. Where lack of safety is an issue, this means that children are less likely to socialize in parks or other social spaces. For middle-income families, this can partially be tackled with extracurricular activities such as sports, arts, and technology.

The Initial Education curriculum states that “Initial Education develops at an age where children not only acquire knowledge about their world but also aim to achieve autonomy in everyday situations, in relating to others through play, fellowship, and friendships” (Secretaría d Educación Pública [SEP] 2013: 63). The process of communication and relationships is encouraged, and teachers are encouraged to organize activities that facilitate children’s reflection on “their friendships, their interests, the things they like and do not like” (98).

Regarding preschool education, the Ministry of Education uses the term enabling environment as a “space where communication and interactions that facilitate learning are promoted” (SEP 2011: 141). Teachers are therefore responsible for encouraging positive social relationships by creating explicit values and concepts, and sharing feelings that forge friendships, self-esteem, learning, and the knowledge and acceptance of others and their world (Irais 2014).

No studies focusing on social media and children’s friendships were found in Mexico.

Establishing friendships in preschool years

One study proposes a theoretical model for understanding the process of friendship amongst preschool children (Fritz-Macías 2016), starting with children’s freedom to identify other children who they like and enjoy spending time with, playing with, sharing interests with, and talking to about things they have in common. The model uses six flexible, open-ended concepts that interact with one another to explain children’s friendships. Authenticity is the natural and genuine urge that children experience in play with other children without external pressure. Children tend to be drawn to peers with similar interests. Once together, one or more of them take the initiative to organize a day-to-day activity that, in order to continue being fun and enticing, needs to be planned and carried out together. The enjoyment of being together facilitates dialogue, and negotiation provides further potential for communication. These shared elements can sometimes create a complicity among friends: a special relationship of solidarity and camaraderie, which can be used to act mischievously and in secret, using codes known only to those involved; this is possible only through shared time and effort. This continued effort produces a particular affection. Preschool children will then show fondness, hug and care for each other, and express that they are “best friends.” Preschool can foster this process if it provides an environment with respect, trust, and empathy, and if strategies to resolve conflicts are planned and put in place by teachers (Palomar-Lever and Victorio-Estrada 2014; Rojas 2007; Zertuche 2012). Similarly, family and school staff play an important role in encouraging children to socialize outside of school, for example, at children’s parties or days out at weekends. Daguirre highlights that “friendship is a relationship that is established when there is mutual affection, a shared disposition to undertake activities and a continuous effort in maintaining the relationship” (2010: 63).

Constructing friendships at elementary school

Within the General Framework for Teaching Values in Compulsory Education (SEP 1999), SEP published and distributed educational material aiming to promote values to enrich civic education. Among various issues, these materials aimed to promote friendship as a way to avoid conflicts. In 2011, the Holistic Civic and Ethical Education Program was published (SEP 2011) and friendship was considered to be a means to achieve a full personal and family life.

Carrasco-Lozano and Veloz-Méndez (2014: 57) focused on the role of friendship in the process of tackling school violence. In their study, conducted in one city in central Mexico, 100 students from one public and one private primary school were surveyed. They explored the effects of civic education and, in the case of private education, also considered the effect of religious education. Both types of education promote love and friendship in order to tackle violence.

The authors discuss how critical thinking is necessary in order to apply these concepts to everyday life.

The study finds differences between gender and type of school. In public schools, 13.3 percent of girls believe that friendship is essential while 6.6 percent of boys believe likewise. On the other hand, girls and boys from the private school scored 26.6 percent and 18.3 percent respectively. Furthermore, the study argues that respect and solidarity learned at home facilitate the development of friendships in school.

Luque and Luque (2015) state that the school plays a decisive role in the development of values through curriculum activities and classroom interactions. They argue that together, these are an ideal means to promote relationships that encourage friendship based on prosocial values of sharing and helping, accepting and cooperating, with respect and tolerance.

Valdez et al. (2008) conducted a comparative study between Mexican and French children of 10 to 12 years of age, focusing on how values are important in shaping their lives. The authors found that the Mexican children tended to be driven by ethics, emotions, and affection, valuing friendship and love, while the French children in their sample valued freedom, responsibility, and individualism. Mexican children showed a certain degree of passivity, obedience, and gregariousness, valuing affection and the community, and holding friendship in high esteem. In contrast, French children did not value friendship much and tended to be less passive.

Some primary schools have specialized staff, part of the Special Education and Inclusive Education Unit (UDEEI), who work with students and their families. They conduct workshops specifically to promote values. One of the many resources they use is a book called Our Children’s Friends (La Vaca Independiente 2018), which aims to teach parents about the importance of promoting children’s friendships.

Friendship and conflict

The principal strategy for tackling violence in schools is to promote environments that are free from abuse. SEP (2017) published the book Schools Free from Abuse as part of its National Program for School Harmony and Pro-social Values. In this book, positive relationships are promoted from the perspective of the human rights framework, where diversity is celebrated and self-regulation should temper emotions and behaviors. Family involvement is equally encouraged, and this environment aims to facilitate learning and emotional development.

Similarly, a further strategy is detailed in the book In our School … we learn to live together (SEP 2016), part of which is dedicated to conflict resolution strategies. Mena, Jáuregui, and Moreno (2011) detail three elements that can turn a conflict between participants into a learning experience, namely socioemotional skills, negotiation, and mediation. In their view, conflicts can prove to be a learning opportunity, as children are able to reflect on their relationships, thereby adding to and improving their strategies for relating to others. Living together means identifying differences and constructing shared solutions.

Peer groups and peer cultures

Children build up friendships in their everyday interactions, creating a bond that will strengthen that relationship through each new experience. This is reflected in pedagogical documentation (Fritz-Macías 2016).

In one of several studies focusing on disabled children, Luque and Luque (2015) report no differences in terms of how well children accept disabled peers based on their gender or socioeconomic background. The authors recommend reinforcing the values of recognition, respect, and support for children with disabilities, as they are frequently isolated due to their needs for individual support.

Affability, a peaceful nature, and charm are personal attributes conducive to friendship amongst preschool children; stress, hyperactivity, and impulsivity make the process more difficult (Luque and Luque 2015).

Studies into children’s friendships or peer cultures are relatively new in Mexico. The challenge now is to conduct research with children not only as subjects but also as participants.

Further reading and online resources

Alberoni, F. 2006. La Amistad: aproximación a uno de los más antiguos vínculos humanos . México: Gedisa.

Butterworth, D. 1972. “Two Small Groups: A Comparison of Migrants and Non-Migrants in Mexico City .” Urban Anthropology 1 (1): 29–50. Accessed October 25, 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40552855 .

Carrasco-Lozano, M. E. E. and A. Veloz-Méndez. 2014. “Aprendiendo Valores Desaprendiendo Violencia, Un Estudio Con Niñas Y Niños De Escuelas De Educación Básica En El Estado De Hidalgo .” Ra Ximhai 10 (7): 55–70. Accessed October 25, 2018. http://www.redalyc.org/pdf/461/46132451004.pdf .

Escuela libre de acoso. 2017. “La escuela: un lugar para convivir.” [Blog]. gob.mx, September 6. Accessed October 25, 2018. http://www.gob.mx/escuelalibredeacoso/articulos/la-escuela-un-lugar-para-convivir

Fritz Macías, H. D. 2016. “El proceso de Amistad en la cultura de pares en el preescolar. Un estudio de caso donde los niños son co-investigadores.” PhD diss., Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico City. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1M2LTnJiIGn9NPaAxFer0HeEmoOZmPRkO/view .

Jamieson, L. 2012. “Children and Young People's Relationships, Relational Processes and Social Change: Reading Across Worlds.” Children’s Geographies 10(3): 265–278. doi: 10.1080/14733285.2012.693377.

Jones, G. A. 1997. “Junto con los niños: Street Children in Mexico (Junto con los niños: les enfants des rues du Mexique / Junto con los niños: crianças de rua no México / Junto con los niños: los niños de la calle en México).” Development in Practice 7 (1): 39–49. Accessed October 25, 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4029328 .

Parker, R. 1999. “Review: The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City by Matthew C. Gutmann.” 26 (2): 497–498. Accessed October 25, 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/647314 .

Secretaría d Educación Pública (SEP). n.d. “Aprendizajes Clave: Para La Educación Integral.” Accessed October 25, 2018. http://www.aprendizajesclave.sep.gob.mx/descargables/biblioteca/preescolar/V-j-EDU-SOCIOEMOCIONAL-EN-PREESCO.pdf .


Araiza, J. 2005. “Sobre la amistad según la teoría ética de Artstóteles .” Nova Tellus 29 (2): 125–159 .

Carrasco-Lozano, M. E. E. and A. Veloz-Méndez. 2014. “Aprendiendo valores, desaprendiendo violencia. Un estudio con niños y niñas de escuelas de educación básica en el Estado de Hidalgo .” Revista Ra Ximahai 10 (7): 55–70. ISSN: 1665-0441 .

Daguirre, M. 2010. “Sobre el valor de la amistad y su conflicto potencial con la moral .” Una revisión del debate contemporáneo. Diánoia 60 (64): 47–69 .

Fritz Macías, H. D. 2016. “El proceso de Amistad en la cultura de pares en el preescolar. Un estudio de caso donde los niños son co-investigadores.” PhD diss., Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico City. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1M2LTnJiIGn9NPaAxFer0HeEmoOZmPRkO/view .

Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI). 2014. “Población, natalidad y fecundidad.” Accessed November 19, 2018. http://www.beta.inegi.org.mx/temas/natalidad/ .

Irais, G. 2014. “Ambiente de aprendizaje: su significado en educación preescolar .” Revista de Educación y Desarrollo 29: 63–72 .

La Vaca Independiente. 2018. “Día sensibilización.” Accessed November 19, 2018. https://lavaca.edu.mx-7editorial.html .

Luque, D. J. and M. J. Luque. 2015. “Relaciones de amistad y solidaridad en el aula. Un acercamiento psicoeducativo la discapacidad en un marco inclusivo .” Revista Mexicana de Investigación Educativa 2º (65): 369–392. ISSN:1405-6666 .

Palomar-Lever, J. and A. Victorio-Estrada. 2014. “Determinants of Subjective Well-Being Adolescent Children of Recipients of the Oportunidades Human Development Program in Mexico .” Springer Science+Business 118: 103–124. 24. 24720994 .

Rojas, M. 2007. “Experienced Poverty and Income Poverty in Mexico: A Subjective Well-Being Approach .” World Development 36 (6): 1078–1093 .

Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). 1999. Plan de estudios Licenciatura en Educación Preescolar . México: SEP.

Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). 2011. Curso de Formación y Actualización Profesional para el Personal Docente de Educación Preescolar , vol. 1. México: SEP, Programa de Educación Preescolar, Dirección General de Desarrollo Curricular.

Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). 2013. Modelo de Atención Con Enfoque Integral para la Educación Inicial . México: SEP.

Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). 2016. En Nuestra Escuela … Aprendemos a Convivir. Programa Nacional de Convivencia Escolar . México: SEP.

Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP). 2017. Escuela libre de acoso. Programa Nacional de Convivencia Escolar . México: SEP.

Valdez, J. L., I. González-Arratia, C. Cambrón, and Z. P. Sánchez. 2008. “Los valores en niños mexicanos y franceses .” Ciencia ergo sum 15 (2): 133–138 .

Zertuche, C. P. 2012. “Efectividad del Programa Amistad y Diversión en el desarrollo de la resiliencia en niños en edad preescolar.” MA Thesis, Universidad de Monterrey, División de Educación y Humanidades, Monterrey. Accessed May 5, 2018. http://uploads.friendsresilience.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/05031947/Claudia-Zertuche-MA-thesis-2012-Mexico.pdf . el día 5 de mayo de 2018.

A stable set of activities and values that children develop together in an interaction process.

The educational and care service for children under three years of age that responds to the increasingly broad social awareness of the importance of the first years of life.

A set of values that aim to develop positive interpersonal relationships and therefore foster healthy social coexistence and individual empowerment.

A means of learning about how children think and learn consisting in the recording and collective interpretation used as a means to promote understanding of children and adults about the learning process.