• Other Friendship Advice

Should a child be allowed to have a best friend?

Published: June 17, 2010 | Last Updated: March 29, 2013 By | 5 Replies Continue Reading

An article in the New York Times challenged the notion a child should be allowed to have a best friend. A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding by Hilary Stout raised hackles among parents by reporting that several school and camp administrators are trying, in fact, to squelch best friendships. The professionals’ rationale: Kids should be friends with everyone because exclusivity sets the stage for cliques and bullying.

The experts glossed over the fact that there are differences among people (adults as well as children) in their need for friendships. By dint of personality, some kids are social butterflies and others prefer to spend more time alone, with an intimate best buddy, or with siblings or other family members. While there are strong cultural pressures to encourage children to expand their social circle, adults need to respect each child’s friendship style and preferences.

In my opinion, neither school officials nor parents should be “regulating” friendships. When teachers (or parents) hover too closely or meddle at the first sign of a tiff between kids, children are denied the opportunity to learn friendship lessons they will need as adults. Kids need to be able to choose friends and work out problems as independently as possible— taking into consideration, of course, the child’s age and level of maturity.

Parents serve as role models to their children. They demonstrate how friends can be lifelong sources of joy, sharing, and support. But parents need to be honest, too, in conveying the message to their children that problems invariably crop up in relationships and need to be worked out. They shouldn’t be ashamed to admit that some differences turn out to be irreconcilable, and that most friendships, even very good ones, have expiration dates.

It’s a mistake to make the leap into thinking that close friendships lead to bullying. In fact, when children are bullied or excluded, it is their true friends who “have their backs” and can buffer them from that trauma.

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Category: Helping children deal with friendship problems

Comments (5)

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  1. Tony Whalen says:

    Thank you for this and your piece on the NY Times. I thought my childhood was challenging, but now I shudder for these kids. The hyper-management of the lives of children by adults is making them sick. I wonder how much of this is about providing employment for adults. I don’t remember any “relationship counselor” at the summer camps I attended thirty-five years ago. And what I find most pernicious about this trend is that the actions of the adults will end up resulting in an end of intimacy. t’s a little like that line from Gilbert & Sullivan, “If everybody’s somebody then no one’s anybody!” How can everyone be your best friend? If everybody is my “best friend” then nobody is and these prepubescent best-friend relationships model the intimate romantic relationships these kids will have when they get older. People have an essential need for intimacy, privacy, sharing what they choose to share with people they have specially qualified for the purpose. Some of the most important things have come out of privacy. Newton kept calculus a secret for twenty years. What is behind all of this is the drive for conformity in our society. If we have the kids all texting all day long then we can monitor this and eradicate what we don’t like. I guess I sound more and more like a libertarian as I get older but I think this is important. Will thought police be breaking down our doors soon? Happily I can dismiss the paranoid’s nightmare of a technical breakthrough that allows people to read thoughts simply because if they were ever able to do that they would get such an insight into the mayhem of the thoughts of even the most innocuous-seeming person (including themselves) that they would ditch their machine in the river in the middle of the night. I rue the day that “The Silence of the Lambs” came out. It touched some kind of nerve. After that parents saw any middle-aged unmarried man with a peculiar manner as dangerous and so they locked up the kids. No more Scout and Jem and Boo Radley up to all their crazy stuff in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, even though such experiences forge character. When was the last time in the national discourse on child-rearing was CHARACTER ever seriously addressed? What a quaint notion. Playdates at the mall at Chucky Cheese, and if Sara and Jenny are enjoying each other’s company too much you have to separate them.

  2. Gert says:

    What in the world makes educators the experts? They use our kids like lab rats! They test the latest theories out and who knows what damage they cause that we have to pick up the pieces for. An education does not necessarily make you wise.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Geesh! I’ve always been a one friend at a time kind of gal- not to be cliquey but because I was shy and get overwhelmed by numbers. I had a best friend starting at age 5! And I know her still though we see each other rarely. Silly, silly ideas in my humble opinion. Cliques are pack mentality not best friend mentality- I despise that and always have. People in pack mentality are doglike in that lots of damage can happen with the raw power of the pack.
    Your bloggy friend, Starrlife

  4. Anonymous says:

    Kids are going to have to learn how to deal with cliques and bullying. What will they do when they enter the workforce and deal with that? Believe me, the workplace is a petri dish for high school behavior, especially in smaller companies. I understand about not inviting everyone to a classmates birthday party, be discreet so no one has hurt feelings. Same rules should apply to work. A boss is not going to waste their time and energy consoling coworkers whom have been left out. They have a business to run. I am glad this article was written.

  5. Kate says:

    I’m glad you wrote about this… a good friendship is very special. What adults need to be teaching is how kids can be friends who are good to each other without excluding others.

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