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?