‘When I play football with my friends … there is no time that I feel sad’: an exploration of adolescents’ friendship networks in Ethiopia

by Nicola Jones, Kate Pincock, Kassahun Tilahun and Workneh Yadete

01 Jun 2022
Journal of the British Academy
Digital Object Identifier
Number of pages
20 (pp. 37-56)

Abstract: The patterning and role of adolescent peer networks in low- and middle-income countries is under-researched and dominated by a ‘crisis childhoods’ framing. Using qualitative research in Ethiopia, this paper seeks to counter this framing, exploring how gender, marital status, location and disability shape adolescent friendships, in-person and online.

Our findings show that trusted friends provide emotional support and information, including about academic studies, work, puberty and marriage, but the peer networks available largely depend on gender and location. Urban adolescents, especially boys, are more likely to have friendships and older peer mentors linked to in-school and community-based adolescent clubs, and online peer networks, while their rural counterparts are more likely to participate in adolescent-only cultural traditions. Married girls and adolescents with disabilities appear to have fewer opportunities to establish peer networks, due to restrictive social norms and discrimination. The paper concludes by highlighting the context-specific and gendered dynamics of peer networks and children’s cultures in shaping adolescent development and wellbeing.

Keywords: Adolescents, peer networks, friendship, gender, urban, rural, disability, married girls, digital environment, Ethiopia.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 10, supplementary issue 2 (Searching for the Everyday in African Childhoods).

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