Best Friends. Whether they’re called a BFF, a best buddy, an old-school blood brother or some other name, most children know there’s a difference between an acquaintance, a friend and a best friend by the time they reach Kindergarten.
While children are capable of being friends with lots of different kids, they tend to gravitate toward and spend more time with those with whom they have the most in common. Often, that results in kids pairing up into “best friends” – the friend who understands them most, listens, provides a reality check or just has their back.
I can still remember the name of every one of my “best friends” growing up. In the little half-day Kindergarten I attended in 1976, my BFF was a girl called Holly, who sat behind me in Miss Carol-Anne’s classroom. We would share animal crackers for snack and read Weekly Readers together.
In grammar school, I was best friends first with Coley and then with Nicole. When I began high school in 8th grade, I became immediate best friends with Lisa. We chatted for hours on the phone together. We spent virtually every weekend at each other’s houses. We laughed at the silliest things, talked about boys, and later “cruised” around Stone Mountain driving her mother’s minivan. Even though I always had a best friend, I also maintained other good friendships and would socialize with a large group of friends throughout my youth.
Today, my three daughters have their own best friends – and they too, will hang out in larger groups as well.
Like any close relationship, best friends have their ups and downs; their ins and outs; and sometimes, their break-ups. Even with the rough patches, the special bond that draws children together in close friendships is so natural that most people hardly question it.
Until now, that is. Last week, the New York Times reported that some schools and camps are not only beginning to question whether children should have best friends, but they are also encouraging teachers to monitor best buds for signs of exclusive behavior. Some camp counselors are beginning to separate the friends so they can get to know other kids at camp. From the article:
“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.”
Some of the educators say they monitor duos of best friends in an effort to prevent strong friendships from hurting others’ feelings or disrupting the classroom. They worry close friendships could lead to exclusive behavior, cliques or even bullying. To discourage this kind of thing, the educators encourage students to make friends with everybody.
EVERYBODY? Really? Sometimes kids just want to hang out with each other. You can’t force people to be friends or share the same interests – and seriously, why would you want to? Don’t we also like to revel in our diversity?
If a child is misbehaving, bullying or otherwise acting outside the bounds of socially-acceptable behavior, then parents, educators, counselors, etc. should step in and take control of the situation. But merely having a best friend shouldn’t raise a red flag. That’s not anti-social behavior; that’s normal behavior.
Forcing friendships on children who wouldn’t normally get along, or forcing two friends to ignore their real bond, is abnormal, though – something psychologists in the New York Times article pointed out:
If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?
“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,” said Michael Thompson, a psychologist who is an author of the book “Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children.”
“When a teacher is trying to tone down a best-friend culture, I would like to know why,” Dr. Thompson said. “Is it causing misery for the class? Or is there one girl who does have friends but just can’t bear the thought that she doesn’t have as good a best friend as another? That to me is normal social pain. If you’re mucking around too much in the lives of kids who are just experiencing normal social pain, you shouldn’t be.”
Should children have best friends? What are the advantages and disadvantages to having a best friend?
Do your kids have a BFF? What would you do if your child’s school or camp tried to “break up” your son or daughter’s close friendship?