Warning: No BFFs Allowed

Oh my gosh. I need to stop writing this blog right this minute. According to today’s New York Times, the Best Friend is over. What I am searching for does not exist. Or should not.

In our modern Mean Girls, text messaging, bullying society, teachers and school administrators are discouraging anything that might present itself as a clique, the Times says. Two girls whispering and weaving friendship bracelets in the corner? Out.

“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 after school—signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity…”

These days it’s all about groups of friends, apparently. Which reminds me of an intern who recently told me she spent the Passover holiday holding a seder with her 16 best friends. I’m all for spreading the friend love, but forcing this mentality and separating any kids who get too close? In grade school? That’s a bit overboard, no?

What’s wrong with learning to form intimate friendships? One of the best things to come out of my summer camp experience is my BFF. What would I have done if because we seemed “to be too focused on each other, the camp [made] sure to put [us] on different sports teams, seat [us] at different ends of the dining table…”?

The article goes on to explain that psychologists don’t necessarily agree with schools’ anti-BFF mentality. Forging different types of friendships in childhood is preparation for social interaction later in life. If you manipulate the system so that no kid ever feels left out, what’ll happen when her grown-up self misses out on a coveted invite and she doesn’t have the skill set to deal with it? As one psychologist says in the article, “When a teacher is trying to tone down a best-friend culture, I would like to know why. … 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 experiencing normal social pain, you shouldn’t be.”

I love the notion of the best friend forever. Clearly. There’s a part of me that wonders if such a relationship is even possible for adults. But I put that inseparable BFFness, complete with up-all-night sleepovers and choreographed dances (wait, was that just me?), up there with lightning-speed metabolism and never-ending energy on the list of reasons why childhood is magical.

I’m not pro children getting left out. But I am all for trusting them to navigate the murky waters of friendship themselves, or at least giving them the chance to try. I believe in letting kids experience the wonder of meeting that special someone without fear of getting separated simply because they hit it off. My mother-in-law tells the story of the first time Matt met his best friend. He came home from day camp and said “I made a new friend. His name is Noah Benjamin.” They’re still best friends 24 years later. That’s what I want for my kid.

Do you think best-friendships are bad for children? That groups of friends are safer in today’s world? Or should kids be allowed to figure out social relationships for themselves? And—be honest—were the BFF relationships back in the day really so carefree, or am I wearing a coke-bottle pair of rose-colored glasses?

16 Comments

Filed under 21st Century Friendships

16 responses to “Warning: No BFFs Allowed

  1. I definitely don’t think that having close friends is bad for kids, or really possible to avoid- how else do you learn to relate to other people?

    Maybe from the outside the fast swapping of close friends inside groups is just hard to see. I know when I was younger there were infinite minute political situations playing out every day. If you’re not in that (or are, you know, a new york times reporter?) I think that would be really hard to read.

  2. Ahhh! Reading this makes me want to bellow, “LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE!” Even if parents have to step in every now and then and help their children navigate social and friendship situations, schools certainly shouldn’t.

    Groups of friends are valuable, but so often that one best friend — the one you feel truly “gets” you — makes the most emotional difference (or at least has to me). It’s natural to feel closer to some people than others, even in the workplace. Even in the nursing home!

    I don’t see how, if you’re kind and friendly to everyone, this closeness is a problem worthy of banishing the BFF.

  3. Lisa Z

    I don’t know anything about raising kids, however I too want a Noah or Norah Benjamin for my kids.

    My manfriend has 3 Noah Benjamins (brothers). He is so lucky.

    Second post about mom and kids this week, Rachel. Contemplating anything yet?

  4. I thought the Times article was … bizarre. Seriously, kids will figure it out. Lay off!

  5. katieleigh

    I’m with Julie. LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE! Let them figure it out for themselves. I think adults should only have to intervene if things get truly dangerous or hurtful. Of course we want parents teaching their kids how to navigate relationships. But preventing best friendships? That’s both ridiculous and sad.

    I wonder if these reporters and psychologists were betrayed by their best friends. Or if we are all just so scared of deep relationships these days, in our Facebook-driven world. Either way, we should NOT be teaching our children that superficial friendships are the way to go.

  6. elizabeth

    My childhood BFF’s mom once told us, “Your friends are the family you get to choose.”

    My grade school clique, and yes we were definitely a clique, for better or worse, was my second family. All five of us were put together in a class in fifth grade and our teacher expressed his concern to our parents when we decided to read the same book so we could talk about with each other. I’m still not sure why he was concerned with our self-started after school book club, but anyway. They spent the rest of middle school trying to ensure we were separated, but it didn’t matter – they couldn’t keep us apart. Perhaps their dismay even encouraged us – I think because we didn’t (and still don’t) understand what the problem with being so close was. Like most kids, we each went through some tough periods during those years: fathers cheating, family financial problems, eating disorders, … and we confided and trusted in each other for support when any one of our homes felt like it was falling apart. I think that was a good thing, and left us all more functional as adults.

    Now, 20 years later as a single 30-something, my present BFFs are still my second family. They include a few friends I grew up with, a couple college friends, and even some “new” friends from life since college. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have this second family and I really don’t know what I would do without them; without their company, support, advice, ears, diverse passions and interests.

    I agree with Rachel that learning early to form these intimate bonds, to trust people, to open up, and to share in the wonderful as well as the most difficult moments is a blessing and not something teachers or anyone else should be policing.

    We should all be so lucky to have a second family full of people we choose, can depend on, and love like sisters and brothers. This is especially true for those (many) people who don’t have a family they like. I am fortunate that I love my family and am very close to my parents and siblings, but I still need my second family too.

    Thanks for this great article and thoughtful, insightful critique of NYT piece.

  7. I just read that article and I have two reactions:
    1. Schools need to stay out of friendship relationships. Separating two kids because they are too focused on each other? That is creepy and as a parent I would be disturbed by this.
    2. On the other hand, focusing on one friend in childhood can lead to heartache. Have you ever had a best friend who turned on you? While this is “normal social pain,” according to a psychologist quoted in the article, why set yourself up for disaster? I think it’s best to teach our kids not to have all their social eggs in one basket. Be inclusive, be friends with lots of people and you will always have options.

  8. Ana

    Actually, I think its normal childhood development to have a best friend. In fact, pediatrician, one of the things pediatricians ask school-age kids to assess their social/psychologic development is whether they have a best friend. If they don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with them, but it raises a red flag. From my standpoint, having a big group of “friends” that one or two people can be excluded from is worse than kids naturally grouping into twos and threes. Isn’t that natural social behavior for humans? And yes, being left out, or being “broken up with” IS normal social pain. Yes, its painful, but by the time kids are old enough to feel that kind of pain, they are old enough to deal with it (with parents help), I believe. I have to disagree with Dawn above—its fine to have options, but kids should also learn about commitment and loyalty also. Otherwise you get a whole lot of “friends” on facebook & not a shoulder to lean on when things get rough.

    The whole thing smacks of entitlement and over-parenting—the notion that we have to protect our kids from any possible failure or disappointment—to create this perfect life for them where no ones wins or loses, everyone is friends, and mommy & daddy are always there to bail you out of anything. I’d prefer my kids to have some disappointments and failures during childhood so they can learn to deal with them with our help, before they are out on their own, and have no coping skills.

    Also, as a parent (albeit with a child too young to have “friends” yet) it seems tough & awkward if my kid doesn’t have a “go-to” BFF to invite along to movies, sleep-overs, etc… Do you have to do everything as a huge group? Weird.

    Sorry for the rant, I must have had too much coffee this morning :)

  9. I never fit into a BFF mentality as a kid (which has carried over into my adult years). Growing up, there was a gang of us from the same neighborhood. We grew up together. Held alliances together. But, never did I feel particular kinship to one over another.

    Then, my family started moving around. I was always the new kid on the block. It was easier to join a group of friends instead of picking one kid out for friendship. I was less of a threat that way (i.e., I wasn’t going to steal anyone else’s BFF).

    While I might not have ever had a BFF, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I learned how to make friends no matter what the situation. And, I learned to build a support network, instead of solely relying on that one friend.

    That said, I think schools today are becoming an extension of helicopter parenting. They try to put too many controls into place to cover their asses, but the reality is kids will be kids and rules are meant to be broken.

  10. Allison

    Totally agree that people are getting too paranoid about letting their kids be kids and have childhoods. I was one of those who *got* left out in grade school/middle school, and while it definitely sucked, it also definitely made me a stronger person when getting excluded or criticized AND, I think, made me more compassionate and empathetic when I see others (at any age) getting treated like I was. I’m sure it absolutely killed my parents to see me so miserable, but they wisely took the opportunity to drive that lesson home.

    Honestly though, what I remember about grade school friendships was how often they shifted. One girl was my best friend in 4th grade and we randomly couldn’t stand each other in 5th grade. I was inseparable with 3 other girls for the first part of 5th grade and by the end of the year, we had split into 2 pairs (actually one girl and I stopped getting along; she “stole” another girl from me, and the poor 3rd girl spent awhile trying to stay friends with all of us…which didn’t work). All that kind of stuff times 1000. I’m glad I grew up…

  11. Emily

    I remember a teacher told me at the end of my junior year of high school she was going to request that my BFF and I have different schedules so that we could “branch out” and make new friends. And for my last 2 years of high school, I had no classes with her which is hard to do since I had such a small graduating class. The strange thing was we DID have a core group of friends that we hung out with…we were just attached at the hip sometimes, but not exclusive with our friendship. I wonder what the teacher saw/got that we didn’t.
    And choreographed dances are NOT just you…I still remember the moves we made up to Material Girl. Sooo Romy and Michele (my personal favorite BFF movie, alongside with Vicky and Lalaina from Reality Bites). Can’t beat the My Sharona dance scene (which I played out with another BFF from college in the middle of a craft store).

  12. Alisa

    So along with no winners and losers because heaven forbid our kids have “low self esteem”, now they can’t even have BFF’s? Big eye roll from me here. Having a BFF is part of childhood. Losing a BFF is part of childhood. My job as a parent is not to make sure bad things never happen, but to give my child the tools to deal with it and grow and learn. Where would the writers and artists come from? Unless there is truly something cruel or mean going on, I say stay out of it. And btw, doesn’t stuff like this just make kids even MORE determined to be together (whether as besties or later as romantic partners)? Geez. I think schools should teach my kids math and science, not dictate their social networks. Sorry, got worked up over this one!

  13. Eva

    This is very interesting. And I think about jr and sr high and how difficult those years were. They were great, but they were also really hard. Girls can be especially mean and cold-hearted toward one another, and I wonder if it’s even worse today.

    I never really had a best friend. I was one of a group of friends, all girls. And I felt okay with that. So on one hand, I think it’s okay not to have one BFF. But on the other hand, I don’t really understand why adults – school administrators – should be directing friendships. We all need to learn how to build relationships, to break up, to fight and make up, etc. before reaching adulthood.

  14. I think we are trying to shelter kids just a bit too much. No, I don’t want anyone to feel left out, but it’s bound to happen during mutiple phases of your life so you might as well start developing those coping skills at an early age!

  15. san

    I think I do believe in the BFF mentalities… who was your best friend shifted around during childhood and teenage years, but friendships I have established back then turned into life-long BFF’s. I wouldn’t want to miss that.

  16. Pingback: Memory is a Funny Thing | MWF Seeking BFF

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