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I met Julia on the first day of kindergarten. She had gorgeous waist-length hair and, call me shallow (I was five!), that was enough to prompt me to march boldly up to her and ask if she wanted to play blocks. When she said yes, our friendship was cemented. Julia and I were inseparable -- "BFFs," as my own daughters would say -- until she moved across the country after fifth grade. But more than 30 years later we still share ridiculous inside jokes and a million fuzzy memories.
Today, reports The New York Times, many parents, schools and camps are actively discouraging the infamous best-friend bond and instead encouraging children to be buddies with everyone in an effort to eliminate bullying and social exclusion.
I found it interesting that the article referenced one sleepaway camp that employs “friendship coaches” to work with campers to make sure everyone gets along. I thought that was progressive in theory until I read that counselors go out of their way to separate BFFs by putting them on different teams and in different activities.
In these cases, they don't seem to be focusing on bad-influence buddies or nasty little cliques and instead are singling out the kids who have best friends. Maybe there are some kids that are just naturally drawn to one special, intimate bond while others are the friend-to-many type. By getting too involved trying to control our kids' friendships, are we trying to force their little bodies into our grown-up molds?
"Kids don't necesarily need a best friend, but they do need a few loyal buddies," says Michelle Borba, Ed.D., parenting expert and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. "Stopping our kids from having best friends isn't a solution to bullying problems."
My 7-year-old has a best friend; my 5-year-old does not. I think it's just the way their little personalities work. At home, we talk equally about kindness, respect, empathy and advocacy and all of the qualities that make a great friend. I'm proud to say that my kids understand that it’s not enough to not bully or tease; you also have to step in and defend others who are being bullied or teased. Because each of them knows how to be a friend, they will always have them. Whether they want one or a hundred is entirely up to them.
Dr. Borba says that some kids cling to one particular friend because they don't feel comfortable with others. If you suspect your child is having problems reaching out to new pals, she recommends encouraging good old-fashioned sandbox-style play instead of structured play dates and TV or video-game interaction. "Step back and let your kids work things through so that they learn to speak for themselves," Dr. Borba says. "And turn off the TV once in a while so they learn real face-to-face interaction."
What do you think about best friends for your kids? Chime in below!