Why Some Say Our Kids
Shouldn’t Have Best Friends
Bullying is bad. It seeps into the souls of children and can slowly chip away at their confidence, self-worth, and feeling of belonging in the world. Loneliness is generally not a comforting emotion, and being excluded from relationships with peers is a challenging and sad experience for many children. Of these points, I agree. However, new approaches by school and community leaders attempt to have me believing that best friends – those close friendships that can be the rite of childhood passage – can also be at the root of disconnect in social circles and even contribute to bullying. Yes, your child’s best friendship might be one of the biggest downfalls they can experience in their social development. Huh?
The Bad Side of Best Friends
In an article by Hilary Stout, A Best Friend? You Must be Kidding, published in the New York Times, adult role models and leaders are quoted as purposefully and directly discouraging children from forming relationships with best friends. The contention is that when children focus on close, exclusive friendships they are at risk of isolation and could possibly be the perpetrators of negative actions in cliques and of bullying.
Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis goes so far as to tell parents that their children don’t need best friends. “I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend…we try to encourage them not to do that. 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.”
Stout even reports on a camp where children who appear to have developed close friendships are separated, supposedly for the good of themselves and the rest of the campers. The idea is that when children are too focused on singular friendships they don’t leave room for meeting new people and developing friendships with a broader range of individuals.
Yes – close friendships, especially during childhood, can lead to painful disagreements and sadness when the friendship changes somehow or if one child moves away. Sometimes children are left with feelings of loneliness and seclusion, having ineffectively migrated away from other friendships. Sometimes there is near heartbreak if a close friendship ends in betrayal of trust amid bullying. I have painfully watched as my own children said goodbye to best friends who moved away.
The Importance of Best Friends
Even though I have seen the sadness that losing those close relationships can bring children, I wouldn’t have traded those experiences for them if it meant not experiencing the best friend bonds. There is so much to be learned from childhood friendships, and frankly, sometimes adults are just too concerned with controlling the details to do any good.
The article by Stout includes conversations with psychologists who do worry that denying children the benefits of close friendships denies them the opportunity to learn about the security and emotional support that best friendships can bring. Some psychologists question the approach of encouraging children to form multiple superficial relationships. They fear that friendships that are directed by adults do not help children develop the social skills needed later in life. The abilities of kids to empathize, persevere, support, and nurture are rooted in their close peer relationships. While there is risk of sadness and betrayal, the risks of not allowing children to deal with these real life scenarios are greater. Social and emotional intelligence can’t be taught from afar or by creating false environments.
As a parent I am thrilled to see my children form close friendships, even when I have seen them go through the pain of losing some of the connections. That is real life. Best friends can be the single support in our lives we have that allows us to be ourselves, faults and all, and we can give that gift back to someone else. My daughter will quickly tell anyone that she has a best bud, someone she has known for more than 8 years, with whom she giggles, tell secrets, and shares funny stories. Maybe I am so thrilled that she has found this connection with someone because I know what it is like to meet someone who seems to know your soul. For more than 25 years (yikes!) I have been fortunate to have a best friend – someone who lets me be myself and still loves me. We might not talk every day like we did in high school, but we both know that we will always have each other in our hearts. Don’t take that opportunity away from your kids.