While reading the news this morning, I came across a ridiculous headline.
According to the article there is a trend in Europe that is working it's way into the United States. Schools are banning "best friends". That's right. In a drive towards inclusion, Dr. Barbara Greenberg advocates the idea that banning children from designating a "best friend" is a swell idea. No, it isn't. And there are several reasons why.
First, school should be the place where you learn to take the social skills taught to you by your parents and family into a broader world and learn what works and what doesn't. In a world where children's free play time has decreased dramatically and many are programmed into extra-curricular activities at an early age, recess might be the only place where they are challenged to negotiate, solve problems and figure out their social preferences.
Second, the way children interact with their peers evolves significantly over their elementary education. Very young children participate in parallel play where they play near, not with someone. This progresses to interactive play and if you are lucky imaginative play. In this evolution distinct preferences evolve. Some children who are more introverted, may prefer to keep their interactions to one or two peers. This was certainly the case with one of my children. While their siblings ran with a crew of other children in the neighborhood, my little introvert preferred to be with her best friend pretty much exclusively. And even my extroverted children exacted a best friend or two from the circle of friends they had.
Even at an early age, they were able to discern who liked the same things they did, who had similar values and who they could always count on in a bind. I really fail to see how children coming to understand the deep and rich bonds of a close friendship or "best friend" at a young age is a bad thing. Don't those skills become the blueprint for forming other successful relationships later in life? Of course they do. I would also argue it teaches them discernment. Understanding who you have very deep reciprocal bonds with versus people you like and enjoy and those that are just acquaintances is a life skill.
Now of course Dr. Greenberg is concerned about the challenges brought about by shifting friendships as children move through their school years. Children get their feelings hurt when relationships change. I say excellent. Into each life a little rain must fall. One of my most important jobs as a parent was to help my kids surf those uneven waters and stay standing. It was also to tease the lesson out of each disappointment or disagreement.
Should we teach children not to be mean, bully or be needlessly exclusive? Sure. Should we force them to widen their social circle and abandon the idea of "best friends"? Absolutely not. As children grow and mature, they will more than likely have more than one best friend, but I would say even as an adult the designation has meaning even when applied to a group.
I am blessed to have a group of best friends that enriches and makes my life better. A collection of crazy characters I have accumulated over the years that are the shoulders I cry on, the ones I will tell my biggest secrets and fears and the ones who have seen me at my absolute worst. In every case, we are pretty clear about our bond on social media posts and in other public places.
Is it possible that others who know us may feel excluded at times? There are jokes only we understand. There are places we congregate to let our hair down where others aren't invited. So it is highly likely at times we appear exclusive. And if I am to be honest, we are. There are parts of our lives we are only going to share with our besties and that is just the way it is.
But these are the supportive and rich relationships every adult needs. And figuring out how they work when you are a kid can be tough and at times lonely. But banning "best friends" as a means to artificially create group bonds that children may not feel or want to preserve the feelings of some is absurd. How do expect to produce a competent capable adult who can't deal with hurt feelings, disappointment and rejection? Hint: You can't.