Friendship: Childhood vs. Adulthood – 12 Notable Differences

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

friends, childhood and adulthood

As a kid, making friends on the playground was super easy. I’d simply run into the midst of the chaos and get in on the action. There was very little thought of the correct way to get involved and whether or not people wanted me there or not. I didn’t care if people accepted me, and if they had similar life views to me was the furthest thing from my mind. 

I certainly didn’t care about what the other kids thought about religion, morals, animal cruelty, or healthy dieting back then, and perhaps that’s what makes all the difference between an adult and child friendship. No, not the impoliteness of youth, but everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything from who we were and how we were raised, right down to how our brains were developing at the time.

Childhood friendships almost had an element of freedom to them. It wasn’t all that long as a child with carefree friendships that the teen years struck and everything changed. Many friendships fell away, and it almost seemed as if people were forming allegiances with each other based on a long list of factors. And it doesn’t stop there. The shifting and changing in friendships is an ongoing thing in each phase of life. 

Let’s take a closer look at the main differences between adult and child friendships below.

Childhood friendship vs. Adulthood friendship – 12 differences:

1. Emotional intelligence. 

The reason I could run onto the playground wielding my stick as a sword and not caring what anybody else thought at age 8 was because I had little concept of emotional intelligence. As a kid, you don’t really think about the cute boy playing on the jungle gym watching you and aren’t too fazed by the potential of getting hurt emotionally. 

As adulthood comes around, we worry far too much about what other people think, and to not do anything that would cast us in a weird or bad light. So we learn to withhold and become a little less, well…ourselves.

2. Knowing better.

As we become adults, we know better. We know that not everyone is our friend, and that some people are negative and hurtful and so we are cautious. We don’t put ourselves out there for new friendships too easily, and when we do, we do so with a lot of wariness involved. This makes it a little harder to make new friends as an adult.

3. Responsibilities.

Kids don’t have the weight of responsibilities on their friendships. When hanging out with a pal in the playground, you probably never thought about having to get the laundry done, finishing up a work assignment, or getting the car serviced. It would have been quite rare if you did! This meant that your time spent with your friends was purely your time together. Friendships aren’t bogged down with all that “stuff” that has to be done like it is in an adult friendship. 

As adults, there’s not much time to maintain friendships, and when you do spend time together, a portion of the time is probably spent complaining about chores, bills, partners, and other big stresses in life. 

4. The actions of hormones.

Hormones have a lot to do with the difference between adult friendship and child friendship. Puberty (and hormones) only make their arrival in the preteen years – most often around 12 years. And that’s when things change, as hormones change and develop all through the years from there on out. 

As a kid with no hormones about, it’s easy to be friends with anyone, boy or girl, young or old. But when the hormones make you a bit more sexually aware, it’s harder to maintain normal friendships. As an adult, those hormones can make us enter different phases of life, go through medical problems, experience jealousy, and so much more. Thanks, hormones! You ruined everything!

5. Innocence.

Children playing tug of war

As a kid, innocence makes friendships easier. We don’t think the worst of our friends, and we don’t suspect their motives. As adults, innocence is lost. We have been through enough to know that nothing is perfect and that some people can be cruel and hurtful. Therefore, the dynamic of the type of friendships we make changes.

6. Society’s influence.

As kids, we are fairly shielded from society and what it says we should be like. We don’t care about race, religion, money, or fashion. But as we get older and have access to media, which is society’s spokesperson, we become more aware of how we “should” be. This can change friendships. 

Suddenly people don’t want to be friends with the wild child wearing no shoes and with messy hair. Suddenly society says that there is a way to dress, behave, and think – and that’s what really separates a childhood friendship from an adulthood friendship.

7. The need for money.

The need for money can affect all areas of life, not just friendships. As adults, money plays an important part in our lives, and some people even let the need and desire for money to change who they really are. When money becomes important, people stop making friends choices based on fun and mutual respect, but rather on who has the most money and who can help you to get ahead. 

8. Expectations.

Let’s talk about expectations. No one really likes to think about it, but we all seem to expect things from other people. Adults expect something from their friends. Adults want their friends to bring some sort of value to their lives, such as depth, understanding, support, and so on. As kids, the only important thing is that everyone is having fun. Nothing else is really expected from the situation at all.

9. Self-awareness.

Adults are very self-aware. We have spent years learning to care what others think, and learning to pick our entire existence apart. We know what our strengths and weaknesses are, we know where we are failing in life – and all of that can weigh heavily on friendships. Kids don’t quite have the same problem. They aren’t too aware of themselves and are more focused on simply spending time in the most fun way possible. 

10. The development of ambitions.

When we are kids, there’s no pressure on us to be ambitious. It’s something we are taught over time. Only as we get older, do we learn that being ambitious will position us comfortably in life. This is a big difference between friendships with kids and adults. Kids will be friends with anyone, whereas adults will let their life ambitions dictate who they connect with and spend time with.

11. Peer pressure.

Peer pressure isn’t something that is often seen on the playground. It only rears its ugly head when kids reach their teens. As a kid, there’s little peer pressure to really do, think, and say anything. As adults, however, we allow our peers to dictate what’s normal, cool, acceptable, and otherwise. Peers can pressure you into spending time with certain groups, being a bore in a group setting, or completely spiraling out of control at some points in life. How lucky kids are before the peer pressure strikes.

girl bullied with her friends

12. Life experience.

Kids make friends very easily because they have no life experience to rely on. Adults tend to gravitate towards people who have had similar experiences to them or have similar wants and needs. Kids are too young for that and don’t know enough about life to be selective. Life experience is one of the biggest differences between childhood and adulthood friends

All things considered

There are many things that set a childhood friendship and adulthood friendship apart. The important thing is realizing that a lot of our adult friendship frustrations are things we have developed over time. 

Wouldn’t it be great if adults could be just as minimally interested in a person’s money, background, thoughts, desires, and life views? 

I wanted to overthink this one, and I did. Have I lost touch with people who I used to play on the playground with just because of the above 12 reasons? I possibly have, but who is to say that such friendships would have been of value to my life? There I go again…thinking about friendship as an adult!

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.