Some educators and other professionals who work with children are discouraging children from having best friends in favor of encouraging kids to socialize as a group. Some school officials don’t like to see kids pairing off and are intent on “discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity” because of concerns about cliques and bullying. “Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis tells the New York Times. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.” Says the paper:
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.
Somebody who knows more about child rearing and psychology (paging Dan Willingham!) is going to have to weigh in here. I’m out of my depth, but intuitively this sounds not only odd and an overreaction, but a needlessly meddlesome intrusion into children’s lives. Best friends are bad for kids? Seriously??