Hilary Stout at NYT:
Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.
“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.”
That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship. (Ms. Laycob was speaking in an interview after spending much of the previous day dealing with a “really awful” text message one girl had sent another.) Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.
Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress:
Unreal. Read the article. The schools and “experts” are intrusive and unnatural. And sad.
This isn’t about what’s good for the children; it is about being better able to control adults by stripping from them any training in intimacy and interpersonal trust. Don’t let two people get together and separate themselves from the pack, or they might do something subversive, like…think differently.
This move against “best friends” is ultimately about preventing individuals from nurturing and expanding their individuality. It is about training our future adults to be unable to exist outside of the pack, the collective. The schools want you to think this is about potential bullying and the sadness of some children feeling “excluded.” But that is not what this is about.
As a kid I was the target of “the pack;” I know more than I care to about schoolyard bullies, and I can tell you that the best antidote to them was having a good friend. One good friend who shares your interests and ideas and sense of humor can erase the negative effects of the conform-or-die “pack” with which one cannot identify, “the pack” that cannot comprehend why one would not wish to join them and will not tolerate resistance.
Marc Thiessen at The American Enterprise Institute:
The absurdity of this approach is beyond measure. For one thing, it is completely at odds with real life. When kids grow up, they’re not going to be “friends with everyone.” In the real world there are people who will like you, and people who will dislike you; people who are kind, and people who are cruel; people you can trust, and people you can’t trust; people who will be there for you in good times and bad, and people who will abandon you when the going gets tough.
Childhood is when kids learn to recognize those different types of people, experience joys and disappointments of different kinds of friendships, and learn the social skills they will need to develop mature relationships later in life. As one psychologist quoted in the article puts it, “No one can teach you what a great friend is, what a fair-weather friend is, what a treacherous and betraying friend is except to have a great friend, a fair-weather friend or a treacherous and betraying friend.”
Denying kids the opportunity to have such experiences stunts their development. It also teaches kids to develop superficial relationships with lots of people, without learning how to develop deep bonds of meaning and consequence with anyone. Think about it: Who among us would tell their deepest, darkest secrets to “everyone”? Denying kids a “best friend” makes it harder to get through childhood—and makes it harder to be a successful adult one day as well.
Obviously, schools want to discourage cliques, ensure that no children are ostracized or bullied, and help those along who have trouble bonding with their peers. But the solution to such problems is not to discourage kids who do bond with their peers from doing so—or consciously separate them when they do.
This is but the latest misguided effort to protect children from the realities of life that only harms them in the long run. First came the trend to stop keeping score in childhood sports and give everyone a “participation trophy”—discouraging excellence and achievement, and shielding kids from the reality of winning and losing. Now comes a new fad of separating best friends—denying kids the magic of those first special friendships.
Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:
The stories are so familiar it makes no need to go into specifics. The experts of the helping professions want to tell you what to eat, what to drink, how to drive, how to talk, how to think. Sometimes they have a point, and as the father of a young child, I’m perfectly willing to concede that cliques and whatnot can be unhealthy or mean. But this really goes to 11.
Lisa Solod Warren at Huffington Post:
I was bulled in middle school and I have written a seminal article on school bullying for Brain, Child magazine a few years ago (well before the topic became so hot) and I say: Balderdash. Bullying is a problem; it can even be a tragedy. But the fact that a couple of kids bond as best friends is not the cause of bullying: stopping best friendships is not going to be the “cure.”
I have always counted myself fortunate to have a best friend as well as a couple of other women in my life with whom I am extremely close. I met my oldest best friend, Patti, when I was eight years old. Now, 46 years later, separated by hundreds of miles, we can still pick up the phone and start a conversation right in the middle. She knows my past and I know hers: all the dirty bits, the secrets, the moments we might not want to remember. She came to my father’s funeral a few months ago and I know that whatever I asked, whenever I asked it, she would be there. She knows the same of me.
She’s been there for me through a whole host of life changes. And those life changes began soon after we met in third grade. Had anyone discouraged me from clinging to her, or her to me, there would indeed have been hell to pay. And to what end? Is there any kind of scientific evidence that proves that being friends with an entire group of people without having one special person on whom one can absolutely rely is preferable? I wonder, actually, why on earth anyone would study this sort of thing in the first place. Bullying is about power. Power and insecurity. It’s something I found is often “taught” or handed down from generation to generation. Stopping kids from having one great friend whom they can trust to have their back is not going to prevent bullying. If anything, when a child doesn’t have someone he or she can trust -someone outside the family–bullying can seem even more onerous and scary than it already is. I never told my parents I was bullied. But Patti knew. And she defended me.
Razib Khan at Secular Right:
The article is in The New York Times. It’s a paper which usually tries really hard to pretend toward objective distance, but I get the sense that even the author of the piece was a bit confused by the weirdness which had infected the educational establishment.
What crackpots. The idea that the way to decrease bullying is to deny children the opportunity to make a special friend or friends is cruel and crazy. It’s like saying that the way to stop school gun violence is to prevent anything that even looks like a gun from being brought to school — like, say, little toy soldiers pinned to a hat. No teacher or school would object to that. Oh, wait…