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Posts tagged ‘friends’

No Best Friend for Janie – Should Kids Have Best Friends?

Last week an article appeared in the New York Times questioning whether or not it was in a child’s best interest to allow them to have a best friend. Hilary Stout, the author of the article, spoke with various adults working with children in an administrative capacity who feel that allowing a child to foster a close friendship could potentially lead to the formation of cliques and create a culture of bullying. These administrators contend that the exclusive nature of a best friendship is detrimental to the social well-being of all children involved.

Stout reports that one New York summer camp takes active measures to prevent close friendships from forming. “If two children seem to be too focused on each other, the camp 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 gotten to know.”

Along with presenting the camp’s negative perspective on close friendships, Stout quotes a director of counseling from a St. Louis school, who also takes active measures to prevent such friendships. “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. 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.”

Reading the article, I found myself getting a little angry that adults in authority would manipulate a child’s natural bonds of friendship. As a parent, I appreciate their concern and desire to prevent a culture of bullying. However, I think their perspective is simply wrong.

No one would argue with promoting kindness and respect for all, but by making it impossible for kids to naturally form close friendships, I think administrators are actually making the situation worse. Psychologist and professor, Dr. Irene Levine points out on her Psychology Today blog that children, like adults have different friendship styles and preferences. Some children are naturally more social, while others are simply more comfortable spending time alone or with a close friend. Also according to Levine, “When teachers (or parents) hover too closely or meddle at the first sign of a tiff between kids, children are denied the opportunity to learn friendship lessons they will need as adults.”

I’ve written here briefly about my own experiences with my childhood best friend, Jeannie. Our friendship taught me invaluable lessons growing up. Jeannie lived down the street and we were nearly inseparable from kindergarten through high school. Our friendship continued in college and although we now live in separate states, when we do get together it’s as if no time’s passed. Husbands and children have been added to the mix, but our friendship still remains. We’ve both expressed how grateful we are for our longstanding friendship that weathered the storms of growing up. Loyalty, honesty, encouragement, selflessness, perseverance and grace are some of the life lessons I learned as our friendship spanned the years.

Even though we were “best friends,” we didn’t exclude people from being with us; rather our friendship enabled us to share with others. Reflecting on those “growing years,” any cliques I remember seemed to exist with those who desired to fit into a group, changing themselves into whatever was acceptable according to current “group think” mentality. Having a “best friend” was a strong support to simply be me, and not to struggle with being a chameleon and only acceptable when put into a mold. I’m bothered that adults would prevent kids from having such valuable, essential developmental experiences. I’m not sure I’d be the same person had Jeannie not been a part of my life. Dr. Levine closed her piece with, “It’s a mistake to make the leap into thinking that close friendships lead to bullying. In fact, when children are bullied or excluded, it is their true friends who “have their backs” and can buffer them from that trauma.”

In the Times article, psychology professor Brett Laursen questions the wisdom of encouraging kids to have “…all sorts of superficial relationships.” “We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.” I wholeheartedly agree with Levine and Laursen. Relationship skills are honed in the wonder years and it’s those skills we carry with us into adulthood; into our marriages, friendships, and workplaces. As a mother of two, I know it’s natural and necessary to help kids by providing needed wisdom and discernment. But taking steps to prevent any close friendships, I believe, robs our kids of the skills they’ll inevitably need later in life. Sometimes it’s better to just get out of the way.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress

Loved in Spite of Myself

“The greatest happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved – loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” – Victor Hugo

I’m not what you’d call a social butterfly. Not a shrinking violet, but definitely someone who appreciates times of solitude. I’m perfectly content to never have been described as the life of the party. I’ve always been one to gravitate towards a few very close friends. The ones I can be myself with, not holding back to appease, but simply be me. The ones who appreciate the reality that each of us has been created with unique gifts and talents. Maybe it’s our shared faith that causes them to appreciate that we each have personalities crafted for a specific place in time and paths to walk on this hike through life. Not only do they appreciate me for me, but they’re not afraid to be honest about who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and when I need to change direction. And they’re not afraid to be themselves – honest about who they are and who they hope to be.

My childhood friend was like a sister to me. The last time I saw her, she told me she’d been thinking about the day we met. I’m ashamed to say, I’d forgotten. I was five and she was four. She’d just moved into a house down my street and had walked down to find someone to play with. I picked a flower from my mom’s garden and gave it to her. I don’t remember what kind of flower it was, but it was the beginning of our friendship. One that’s lasted till today. She no longer lives down my street, but many states away. We’re both married with kids. The few chances I’ve gotten to see or talk with her, it’s just like that day. Simple. We just pick up where we’ve left off, as if no time has passed. A few years ago she gave me a ring that had inscribed on it, “A true friend is one you can be yourself with.” Sums it up.

One of my closest friends lives four hours away. I relish the few times during the year I get to spend with her, someone who’s also become like a sister to me. We laugh. Boy, do we laugh. We cry. We’ve experienced some of life’s tragic difficulties together. And we’ve experienced many of life’s joys. No matter how much time has passed, just like with my childhood friend, we simply pick up where we’ve left off. One of the sweetest things in my life is getting to see her. Once while visiting, she brought me to a storefront in downtown Toronto. It was like a grand unveiling – a surprise just for me. Macy’s holiday window displays had nothing on The Cupcake Shoppe. Cupcakes, too many to count, filled the window, arranged in a rainbow of color. I jumped up and down, and let out a little squeal of joy, like a five year old spying the ice cream truck turning down my street. But my sweet friend didn’t seem to mind. Actually she seemed happy this surprise brought me so much joy. Did I mention I love baking and sweets and anything to do with baking, etc?

Another very close friend lives nearer to me. Somehow with our lives filled with kids, husbands, and everyday responsibilities, our times together happen only every now and then. Yet just like my other friends, when we do get together, it’s as if no time’s passed. She, too, has seen me at my highest and lowest. Shared tragedies, enormous amounts of prayer, shared joys, and shared laughs. Last year, she crafted me a beautiful and lovely shawl. Did I mention, she’s an artisan? Knitting is one of her passions. She, too, is someone I count like a sister.

I’m blessed to have such close friendships. Not only do I have these friends like family, I have a sister who isn’t just a sister, but a close friend, too. Although she lives nearly twelve hours away, our countless conversations, shared prayers and times of laughter are precious to me. We may share a family history, but it’s our friendship that binds us together.

These women aren’t afraid to be honest about themselves, or about me. I have the greatest respect for each of them. I cherish their friendship. It’s a gift I don’t take lightly. People who know me best and love me in spite of myself are a true blessing in my life – I’d even say, better than cupcakes.

Happy Valentine’s Eve, friends!

Photo courtesy PhotoXpress.com