Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In case there weren't enough anti-introvert policies out there...

An article in last week’s New York Times reports on a new question raised by today's education experts: “Should a child really have a best friend?”

Their concerns? That exclusive friendships may cause “cliques and bullying.”

Instead, according to Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis, kids should “have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends":

Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend. We say he doesn’t need a best friend.
The Times suggests this trend extends beyond St Louis Country Day School:
For many child-rearing experts, the ideal situation might well be that of Matthew and Margaret Guest, 12-year-old twins in suburban Atlanta, who almost always socialize in a pack. One typical Friday afternoon, about 10 boys and girls filled the Guest family backyard. Kids were jumping on the trampoline, shooting baskets and playing manhunt, a variation on hide-and-seek.

Neither Margaret nor Matthew has ever had a best friend. “I just really don’t have one person I like more than others,” Margaret said. “Most people have lots of friends.” Matthew said he considers 12 boys to be his good friends and says he sees most of them “pretty much every weekend.”

Their mother, Laura Guest, said their school tries to prevent bullying through workshops and posters. And extracurricular activities keep her children group-oriented — Margaret is on the swim team and does gymnastics; Matthew plays football and baseball.
Beyond Atlanta and the school year:
As the calendar moves into summer, efforts to manage friendships don’t stop with the closing of school. In recent years Timber Lake Camp, a co-ed sleep-away camp in Phoenicia, N.Y., has started employing “friendship coaches” to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else. If two children seem to be too focused on each other, the camp will make sure to put them on different sports teams, seat them at different ends of the dining table or, perhaps, have a counselor invite one of them to participate in an activity with another child whom they haven’t yet gotten to know.
Jay Jacobs, the camp’s director, expresses one additional concern about best friends:
“I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend. If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.”
At JoanneJacobs commenter Quincy has a different take:
The thing this idea doesn’t consider, as most education fads don’t, is how difficult this broad-and-shallow model of friendship would be on introverts. There are some people for whom the act of socializing with a large group is quite difficult, even a little painful…
When it comes to socializing, I find being around more than a few people to be mentally exhausting. When I was growing up, all I could manage was 2 or 3 good friends, and it would have been tough to hear from the people running the school that that wasn’t OK.
The interviews I conducted for my book, along with my own personal preferences, suggest that introverts are far more comfortable with one person at a time than in groups of any size. For us, going from one-on-one to one-on-many really is a quantum leap.

As Quincy notes, “To favor this mode of socialization is to favor extroverts over introverts, which I guess is a perfectly fine form of discrimination these days.”

Indeed, requiring children to play in groups, in its effects on introverts, is right up there with requiring them to work in groups, forcing them to share their personal feelings, and basing more and more of their grades on oral class participation.


lgm said...

I understand this viewpoint, coming from the experience of having an uncliqued child in a cliqued elementary class. The school psych had to be involved the entire year due to the visciousness of one of the cliques.

I think it's a good thing for schools and camps to have teh 'everybody plays' policy. As a longtime youth group leader (volunteer), imhe there is nothing more difficult than a bunch of 'best friends' that sign up for a group activity. They won't interact with anyone other than themselves. They simply don't have the skills to do so and in many cases, they don't think the other children deserve inclusion.

Sounds like a bit of a stretch on the introvert comment. Introverts lose energy around people...they need recharge time after interacting. Doesn't matter if it is one friend or twelve...introvert is not synonomous with loner or hermit.

Niels Henrik Abel said...

So the answer to cliques (which is not the same phenomenon as having a best friend) is to ban all exclusivity? What's the rationale in going from one extreme to the other? The ditch on the left side of the road is just as bad as the one on the right.

If They won't interact with anyone other than themselves and They simply don't have the skills to do so and in many cases, they don't think the other children deserve inclusion, then why not teach them the social skills where they reach out to others? This can be achieved without banning best friends.

Human beings are wired to enjoy exclusive relationships, and it's pretty arrogant to insist that having a best friend is some sort of character flaw that needs to be fixed. There is already a tendency to view introverts as "defective" or even "antisocial" just because they do not prefer crowds large or small. Telling introverts that they have to conform to someone else's "no exclusivity" standard is rubbish.

Mike said...

"Imagine there are no best friends,
It's easy if you try..."

I wonder if Laycob discourages dating among the high schoolers at her school - best cure for date rapes, NO DATES!

I wonder what her cure for groupthink is?

Perhaps she read Brave New World and liked it for the wrong reasons.

lgm said...

Schools aren't saying NEVER pair. Remember, the pairs and cliques are there 24//7: on the bus, at lunch, at recess, at home, at church, at youth group, etc. In my area, the adults are just asking the simple things: in a social setting such as the classroom, include someone outside the clique or pair occasionally. Ex: Accept someone else who would like to build blocks and actually comment to them as well as the cliquemate. It's very very very very hard as these children have been raised to be exclusive and they understand intuitively the social power of exclusion. Isolation of a classmate IS a form of bullying. It's sad to see a child go through the year with NO ONE from his/her class that will speak to him because of the cliquing.

ChemProf said...

There is a big difference between cliquing and having a best friend, though. Often it is the kids who socialize in packs (as recommended by the article) who do the most excluding.

I'm not sure how new this is, though. Back in the 70's, in my kindergarten class, there were two tall, socially awkward girls who were at the top of the class. Not surprisingly, we became best friends. When they set up the first grades, they split us up, and when they sent both of us to second grade for reading, they made sure to send us to separate second grades (so that we could really be outcasts, I guess?) That year was bad enough that my mother switched my school the next year.