Are Best Friends Bad for Children?

The New York Times airs a provocative view

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Whether you're a parent or a kid, you probably think that it's healthy for a child to have a best friend. The New York Times might disagree. An article by Hilary Stout on Thursday cites experts and school administrators who say that when children pair up into best-friend pairs, it can create the cliques and exclusivity that lead to bullying. The contrarian argument presented by the Times is inspiring shock and criticism from across the Web. Here's the article and reaction.

  • The Case Against Best Friends The New York Times' Hilary Stout explains, "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." That means parents are making "efforts to manage friendships" of their children. "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. ... 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."

  • Friendship: New Front in The Culture War? Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen gets partisan. "Having a 'best friend' is human nature. It's one of the great joys of childhood. It's an American tradition. Now the social engineers on the left say it's a bad idea. ... It is unclear how far this has gone. But if the New York Times, the beacon of cutting-edge liberalism, has highlighted it, it must be coming to a school near you."
  • Nanny State Goes Too Far The National Review's Jonah Goldberg fumes, "The stories are so familiar it makes no need to go into specifics. The experts of the helping professions want to tell you what to eat, what to drink, how to drive, how to talk, how to think. Sometimes they have a point, and as the father of a young child, I'm perfectly willing to concede that cliques and whatnot can be unhealthy or mean. But this really goes to 11."
  • We're Forgetting Value of Persistence The Agonist's Sean Paul Kelley writes, "Look, I understand schools need to watch out for bullying. But jaysus: life is about rejection and how we pick ourselves up and deal with that rejection. Get over it. I've been rejected countless times. From not getting the job I wanted, to not getting a date with the girl in High School I wanted to date, to getting picked almost dead last in kick ball when I was in elementary school. Matter of fact, my life has been a series of uninterrupted rejections, at certain points. But you know what: I keep going. It's called persistence. And persistence is a virtue. One we are fast forgetting in this country."
  • Over-Managing Our Children Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis laments, "Here's another idea...... why not just let kids be kids and stop trying to psychoanalyze every decision they make to see it if makes everyone feel better ? This obsession with so-called 'self-esteem' is also the reason that they don't keep score in Tee-Ball anymore, and it is, quite honestly, ridiculous."
  • Some Kids Need a Best Friend The Huffington Post's self-declared "Friendship Doctor" Irene Levine writes, "The article glossed over the fact that there are differences among people (adults as well as children) in their need for friendships. By dint of personality, some kids are social butterflies and others prefer to spend more time alone, with an intimate best buddy, or with siblings or other family members. While there are strong cultural pressures to encourage children to expand their social circle, adults need to respect each child's friendship style and preferences."
  • A Best Friend Is the Best Defense The Anchoress' Elizabeth Scalia explains, "As a kid I was the target of 'the pack;' I know more than I care to about schoolyard bullies, and I can tell you that the best antidote to them was having a good friend. One good friend who shares your interests and ideas and sense of humor can erase the negative effects of the conform-or-die 'pack' with which one cannot identify, "the pack" that cannot comprehend why one would not wish to join them and will not tolerate resistance."
  • Kids in Big Groups Are 'Feral Animals' Forensic psychologist Helen Smith worries, "I don't think keeping kids in a pack makes them less likely to bully. It seems to make them behave more like feral animals. Given that most kids commit crimes in groups due to peer pressure, it seems unwise to tell them to huddle together. And groups of kids may not always do what the liberal adults want them to."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.