Looking Out: Hope, Help, and Friendship Between Poor, Teenaged Girls
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Sandelson, Jasmin A.
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CitationSandelson, Jasmin A. 2019. Looking Out: Hope, Help, and Friendship Between Poor, Teenaged Girls. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractExperiences during adolescence can determine long-term life chances. Much research shows how, for poor teens, the peer group can be a risk factor. “Peer effects” spread risk behaviors, and peer influence threatens teens’ wellbeing and success.
By contrast, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted over four years with two cliques of poor teenaged girls in North Cambridge, Massachusetts, I show how young women helped each other cope, thrive, aspire, and achieve. Through their constant connection—facilitated, in part, by cell phones and social media—the girls sourced and generated a wide range of resources. By supporting one another day-to-day and also in times of strain, the girls’ friendships helped mitigate some of poverty’s burdens.
The young women helped meet each other’s material needs, and in so doing, gave each other dignity and inclusion. Together they managed boredom, which researchers find can lead to petty crime for time-passing thrills. They coped jointly with emotional challenges—like instability, family conflict, and stigmatization—that they faced at home, at school, in the neighborhood, and in their community. And as girls struggled when it came to boys and dating, they tried to support one another, even when peer support proved less effective in this realm than others.
The girls’ friendships offered vital support, so they fought for their relationships when they were threatened. After traumas, including local violence or the death of peers, the girls had a patterned response to crises. Their digital rituals for mourning diverged from adult expectations, but helped the girls shield each other from downward spirals, while protecting their friendships. And, when old bonds were tested by new differences as some girls started dabbling with risk behaviors, they used a moral and interactional pragmatism to defend their relationships, rather than seeking the behavioral homophily that researchers typically find in peer groups.
This shared aid was one factor helping the girls reach their dreams of getting to college. But they all struggled when—in addition to the financial, logistical, and cultural obstacles that face low-income, first-generation college students—they lost the peer support on which they had long relied.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029471
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