The end of the childhood best friend?

[deleted account] ( 18 moms have responded )

Concern over cliques means some schools discourage BFFs

From the time they met in kindergarten until they were 15, Robin Shreeves and her friend Penny were inseparable. They rode bikes, played kickball in the street, swam all summer long and listened to Andy Gibb, the Bay City Rollers and Shaun Cassidy on the stereo. When they were little, they liked Barbies; when they were bigger, they hung out at the roller rink on Friday nights. They told each other secrets like which boys they thought were cute, as best friends always do.

Today, Ms. Shreeves, of suburban Philadelphia, is the mother of two boys. Her 10-year-old has a best friend. In fact, he is the son of Ms. Shreeves’s own friend, Penny. But Ms. Shreeves’s younger son, 8, does not. His favorite playmate is a boy who was in his preschool class, but Ms. Shreeves says that the two don’t get together very often because scheduling play dates can be complicated; they usually have to be planned a week or more in advance. “He’ll say, ‘I wish I had someone I can always call,’ ” Ms. Shreeves said.

One might be tempted to feel some sympathy for the younger son. After all, from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, the childhood “best friend” has long been romanticized in literature and pop culture — not to mention in the sentimental memories of countless adults.

But 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?

Most children naturally seek close friends. 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 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.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship. (Ms. Laycob was speaking in an interview after spending much of the previous day dealing with a “really awful” text message one girl had sent another.) Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

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.

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Jackie - posted on 06/23/2010




GAH! Why do administrators feel like they have to have their hand in EVERYTHING! Something as simple as who your BFF's are? You have to be kidding. Maybe, that's the problem these days. Maybe, the "know it all's" are trying to fix things that aren't broken all the damn time. LET KIDS BE KIDS and don't try to interfere with the joys of being a child.

This is what it sounds like in my head...

Allison: Mom can my BFF , Mary, spend the night?
Me: Sorry honey, you're not allowed a BFF unless you have 10 other BFF's. It's just not acceptable for you to have a special bond with one person. It's unthinkable that you might possibly have more in common with Mary than you do the other kids on the playground...

I call Bulls**T!

[deleted account]

I think trying to control a child's natural instinct like this is wrong. Not every child is going to be gregarious and have large groups of friends. It just doesn't happen. This is like saying a shy kid really has some disorder when perhaps they're just introverted. I myself was that exact person. I was introverted all through school. I was friendly with people but not friends with many.

My best friend today is someone I met as a very small child at church growing up. We've known each other all our lives and I trust her with my and my son's life. My mother's best friend is someone she met in kindergarten as well. My father on the other hand has a huge posse of friends. Everyone is different. Why do we keep saying we encourage diversity but keep trying to make children all behave the same?

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Brittney - posted on 02/12/2012




When I was 4 years old, I met a girl who was the same age as me, we lived close by for many years, she was the victim of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, though at that time I didn't know it. She would stay at my house for many hours past her curfew, not wanting to go home. My parents didn't want me to go to her house or even to be friends with her. 3 years later, when I was 7 I met another girl who moved in to the house across the street, she introduced me to a girl the same age who lived up the street. I went to school and made more friends, some friends left my life while others entered. The girl I met when I was 4, became my "enemy", teasing, name-calling, and bullying. The girls I met when I was 7 are still my friends, even after 13 years!

A friend I met in the 7th grade introduced me to my husband! 4 almost 5 years ago! Without friends, I wouldn't be anywhere. If I would have let my parents make all the decisions...I wouldn't know who are good friends and who are bad.

Stifler's - posted on 02/12/2012




HA! Who's going to stop them? Children don't always keep the same BF I had many it's really good to have someone who will always pick you as their partner for things

Minna - posted on 02/11/2012




So are you supposed to confide in the whole claas? Maybe just a parent or teacher? Good Lord, I wouldn't be here today if I wasn't blessed with best friends. One since birth, 2 since grade school , and one from my first job . We're 50+ , so sometimes we've lived in different cities, but we talk A LOT! Having and keeping friends is more important than just being social. If people built and maintained friendships, therapists would be much less busy. It might make it easier on the teachers to manipulate superficial play groups, but discouraging children from connecting to each other in a meaningful way is just sad! Minna

[deleted account]

That's sad!

As a child who was bullied in school, I'm eternally thankful to have a BFF. Without her school would have been a horrible nightmare. We live in different provinces now and see each other every couple of years but we email often and she'll be my BFF for life.

[deleted account]

I'm still BFF with my childhood BFF... Although she lives in another state now & I rarely see her. We'll be friends for life! ♥

Amber - posted on 07/05/2010




I remember my BFF, both of them...because they still are my BFFs 15 and 13 years later. And our children are growing up together :)
But even though we are best friends, we all also have several other close friends (mutual with each other and from completely different groups too).
It's nice to have that bond with another person. We know each others moods without ever saying a word. We can finish each other sentences. And we have so many inside jokes that you would think we lived in our own world for a period of time :) haha
We've had our fights and falling outs, but we've always come back to one another. And we had our other friends to get us through the rough patches.
I don't think that the school should be interferring though. This is the parents' choice. If the school is having an issue with something that is happening, then the parents should be contacted. As long as it doesn't break a school rule.
And the parents should be monitoring any texts and emails regardless of whether the friends are fighting or not. They shouldn't have freedom to send whatever they want.

Karen - posted on 07/02/2010




What if the other kids are mean and the BFF is the only nice one in the bunch - a child has to suffer just to avoid excluding someone? What if the child is really quiet and only feels comfortable with one person - they should have to suffer because some "expert" deems it so? What if the child is not sports oriented and all the other kids are? - the child should have to always be the last one picked just to appease some expert? Speaking as one who was uncoordinated in a grade school that was hugely sports oriented, it would have been torture. I don't care whether or not my child has a BFF, she may or may not and the person may or may not change over time. As long as she doesn't exclude other people it's fine with me. She has many friends and some are closer than others depending on the situation - sometimes they are BFF, sometimes not. I would not intervene in her relationships in order to fit some mold. The fact that she has a BFF does not exclude other kids. In fact, when she first said she wanted her B'Day party at Build-a-Bear and I told her we would have to limit the group to 6, she decided to have it at the beach so everyone can come - here's to a party of 30 or so (including siblings and parents since she's friends with entire families and not just one child!)

Lyndsay - posted on 06/24/2010




This article was in my local paper today. I'm kind of in the middle. I don't think having one best friend is a bad thing, because I agree with the sentiment that having one best friend helps to instill better values regarding loyalty, trust, and a withstanding relationship. However, I think its important that kids socialize beyond their one best friend because, realistically, its not going to be just the two of them forever. What if one best friend moves away? The other is left devastated, with no other friends to rely on.

Brandy - posted on 06/24/2010




I don't think it's a bad thing for a child to have a 'best' friend but I do think it's good that they are encouraged to be friends with all kinds of kids. I hate racism and encouraging kids to get to know all of their classmates may help prevent it.

[deleted account]

Kids will be kids no matter what if they like someone enough they will have a best friend no matter what anyone tells them

Sherri - posted on 06/22/2010




This is very worrisome to me. How sad that they won't let children choose to have a BFF or not have a specific BFF and a group. My oldest and youngest both have BFF's. My middle one is in a time of transition so he is trying to find himself right now. I am so glad my children are not in schools that actively participate in this line of thinking.

Jodi - posted on 06/22/2010





My daughter is only 5 and already has a BFF. I think it is sweet. They don't lock other people out - they are happy to play with other kids at lunch and recess at school, but these two are inseparable, and I don't see a problem with it. In fact just yesterday, Taylah received a little paper heart from her friend with "to my best friend" written on it, and Taylah has taped that to her bedhead. I think it is a positive thing in her life, not a negative.

Sarah - posted on 06/22/2010




it makes me really sad that schoos/teachers/camps would try to dissuade children from having a BFF. My BFF relationships (at 28 I've had 3 BFF- one from childhood, one from high school/early 20's and one I'm still on from college) were the foundation for all other friendships in my lifetime, taught me the meaning of real friendship and helped me to be better able to handle all the Other social drama that was taking place in high school and whatnot.
I am so sick of "experts" sticking their big noses where they are not needed. Gosh, why don't we just keep our kids in bubbles and not let them have any friends at all, that way they'll Never get hurt.

Amy - posted on 06/22/2010




When I was growing up I didn't have just one best friend, I had 3 or 4 at any given time. When I was in High School I had a few friends in every single "click". Having one best friend isn't important and honestly I'm not sure how many people out there actually had just one best friend.

Cynthia - posted on 06/22/2010




I don't think having one best friend is a bad thing. Growing up, I went through a few different best friends (be really close to one person for a few years, then grow apart), but I also hung out in groups. Generally, my best friend and I would hang out with the same group of a bunch of kids.

Also, hell if I'm having 10 kids over every week! Lol maybe for a birthday party...

Jane - posted on 06/22/2010




My kids are now 20 and almost 17 but ya know, when I think back, they didn't have on BFF. They both, always had a group of friends. I don't know if it was because of what they did in school or the culture of our particular school system. They both are musically inclined so both are in band (both trumpet and piano players - daughter is in college majoring in Music Education) and as they are self described as "band geeks", these kids tend to relate to each other so well that they tend to group themselves. However, both kids were into sports as well. My daughter,was a cheerleader all through high school (it really is a sport - LOL) and my son plays football. Because of the two totally different types of kids they hung out with, their friend base was huge and no one specific person that they considered a best friend.

Now that my daughter is in college out of state, she now has a new group (again, a bunch of musicians) of people she hangs out with while at school but when home on breaks, has a small subset of those she hung out with in high school that still get together for coffee and even a vacation during the summer.

I don't think having a best friend is a bad thing. I think the whole bullying thing is promoted by the bullying kids up-bringing. Bully's raise bully's. Tolerance, love and acceptance raises tolerance, love and acceptance.

Know what I mean?

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