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No More Best Friends?

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #94, 2010.

The TImes raised the question; You decide the answer.
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Mary Pride

I thought that headline would get your attention. We homeschoolers worry a lot about whether our kids can make and keep friends. That’s why the typical support group has such a crammed activities schedule, and why our kids are members of Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, soccer teams, and so on—so our kids can get together with those of likeminded families.

We aren’t the only ones worrying about our kids’ friendships, either. The first question every new homeschooler learns to dread is, “What about socialization?” (See part 3 of Marlene Molewyk’s insightful answer to this question, starting on page 36.)

Ironically, after all the guff and nonsense about whether homeschoolers have enough friends, it emerges that, in the words of a June 16 New York Times article, “Increasingly, some educators and other professionals who work with children are asking a question that might surprise their parents: Should a child really have a best friend?”

Are You Kidding?!

That was my first reaction on reading the article’s headline, “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding!” But no, they are totally serious. According to the NY Times article, “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 every day after school—signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.” As one private school director of counseling said, “Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend. We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

This isn’t just one adult’s opinions. People in charge of schools and camps are now taking steps to make sure that kids who want to be best friends are kept away from each other. “If two children seem to be too focused on each other, [we] 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.” As another private-school psychologist is quoted as saying, “The bottom line is that if we find a best friend pairing to be destructive to either child, or to others in the classroom, we will not hesitate to separate children and to work with the children and their parents to ensure healthier relationships in the future.”

The comments on this article were ample and heartfelt. Some wrote that they worry about kids (girls, especially) exhibiting extreme possessiveness over their “BFFs” (Best Friends Forever, in teen jargon). Others blamed parents for forcing only the “right” friends on kids.

But most commenters spoke of their positive childhood experiences with best friends, and of their horror that schools and other organizations would deliberately set out to destroy these strong childhood bonds.

One person wrote, “As someone who was bullied horribly as a child, I can tell you this: never once did I encounter being bullied by two best friends. It was always the lone wolf. You know the kid: the one with no best friend.”

Several wrote of their horrible experiences as natural introverts being forced to constantly interact in groups, and the relief that one-on-one friendships provided.

Another wrote, “These educators are also deluded if they think that a big group isn't capable of excluding others, in fact it can be more painful to be excluded from a big group of peers than a few bullies who stick together. Having one or two close friends is also vital to pursuing interests—whether it's forming a band or writing the Justin Bieber (or whatever it is that kids listen to these days) fanfiction that will make you cringe and laugh 10 years later. I think these adults are denying kids an essential experience.”

After the article came out, MSNBC ran a poll asking the question, “Should schools discourage kids from seeking out a best friend?” 96.4 percent of respondents (2,019 voters) said, “No!” and only 2.7 percent (57 voters) said “Yes!” (On the down side, we don’t know if those who said, “Yes!” are school counselors, administrators, and teachers.) Here are some of the comments from those who took the poll:

  • Next the “experts” will be choosing our children’s friends for them, setting their play time, bed time, and when we are allowed to see them.
  • From an educational system increasingly given to absurd, knee-jerk reactions, this may be the most profoundly stupid idea yet.
  • Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Yet again, clueless adults micromanaging children.
  • No wonder our kids are growing up repressed and scared to be themselves.
  • First they decide who you can be friends with . . . next who can have kids . . . then who can live where. . . don’t let this get started!
  • Please, don’t think this is some liberal agenda. I’m a big ’ole liberal and I think that the idiots that came up with this idea need to be taken out back and beaten with a big stick for a long time.
  • The only thing this will encourage is shallow, egotistic people who only think of themselves because they have never learned that deep meaningful relationships require thinking of the other person first, compromise and the willingness to look beyond faults.
  • It’s difficult to see how this might work when most adults have best friends, and the students would see all of the adults practicing the exact opposite of what they are supposed to be doing. Try telling the teachers who they can sit with at lunch, and see how enthusiastic they are about the new rules. . . . This type of social engineering goes against human nature.
  • As an only child my best friend is like the brother I never had. Discouraging kids from having a best friend only reinforces the “you can’t trust anyone” mentality developing in our society.
  • It’s important to have someone you can be true to and vice versa. I’m closer to my best friend than I am to my brothers.

If this anti-best-friend movement takes hold—which, if public- and private-school parents have anything to say about it, it won’t—homeschoolers will have yet one more advantage. Our kids will be the only ones who are free to socialize naturally. In that case, our new motto could be: “If you want your kids to have friends, hang out with homeschoolers!”

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