From the NY Times: "Increasingly, some educators and other professionals who work with children are asking a question that might surprise their parents: Should a child really have a best friend?" Our question: why is it their business?
Well, the child-rearing experts quoted in the article would say that exclusive "best-friend" relationships "signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying." And, while the experts in the article don't go so far as to suggest breaking up friendships, "group-oriented activities" are encouraged and twosomes are, yes, discouraged - even if it's what kids want.
"I think it is kids' preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults - teachers and counselors - we try to encourage them not to do that," said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. "We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends...Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend," she continued. "We say he doesn't need a best friend."
Well, if they say so, it must be true! After all, all kids are exactly the same and it's those troublesome pairs of close friends who go around forming cliques (which we'd call "group-oriented," but without any hint of expertise)! Other concerns are more venerable: as one camp director points out, such emotional dependence has a flip-side, that colors as many childhood memories as much as having a romanticized partner in crime. "If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child's ability to explore other options in the world."
Other experts defend a child's right to love - or at least play with - whom he wants. One expounds on the value of one-on-one relationships. "Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children? Imagine the implication for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones." Others quoted point to the demonstrated value of learning empathy and, well, normal human experience, in which all life isn't group-related, and is sometimes painful. In the words of one child psychologist, "If you're mucking around too much in the lives of kids who are just experiencing normal social pain, you shouldn't be."
Doesn't it seem like the kids who might need a best friend the most are not those who are likely to be part of some all-powerful Mean Girls clique? Kids are different: some are gregarious, others basically solitary. Socialization is painful. Of course educators want to prevent systemic failures that result in bullying tragedies, and any parent who can save her child pain, is going to try. But they will be hurt, regardless. And if they have been lucky enough to find a kindred spirit, at least some percentage of the time it's going to be a shoulder to cry on. But then, what's one kid when we're talking theory? After all, it's only MINNIE MAE BARRY'S LIFE ON THE LINE.
A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding [NY Times]