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.Beyond Atlanta and the school year:
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.
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.