If Any "Friendship Coach" Tries to Mess With my Daughters and Their Friends, I Swear I Will Kick Their Ass
It is, of course, pointless and silly to allow oneself to get worked up over another one the NYT's patented create-controversy-and-concern-out-of-a-no-doubt-minute-slice-of-upper-middle-class-New-York-life Style section articles, but I can't help myself: the bone-headedness expressed in this piece on "The End of the Best Friend" (hat tip: Aeon J. Skoble) just pissed me off to no end:
Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. 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....
As the calendar moves into summer, efforts to manage friendships don’t stop with the closing of school. In recent years Timber Lake Camp, a co-ed sleep-away camp in Phoenicia, N.Y., has started employing “friendship coaches” to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else. 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 yet gotten to know.
“I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,” said Jay Jacobs, the camp’s director. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.”
This is, on so many levels, such complete nonsense. Can I find anything to salvage from the piece whatsoever? Oh sure, the concerns about the way really close friendship pairs can form the basis for exclusion and vindictiveness are grounded in reality. And as children grow out of adolescence and into their teen-age years and romantic and sexual feelings enter the picture, discouraging young people from devoting themselves too much, and too early, to exclusive one-on-one relationships is I think frankly wise. (This is one of the reasons Melissa and I keep tabs on who our oldest is hanging out with, and laid down the law about no dating before she turns 16.) But these concerns, as legitimate as they are, have nothing whatsoever to do with the heart of the article. It's central thesis is that there are people who apparently feel quite responsible and legitimated in disrupting and separating two kids who find in each other exactly the support-system, the source of humor and joy, the mutually constructed social identity, that many of us want and need. And this is not condemned by the article (though, to the author's credit, some countering voices are brought in, to make the point that "close childhood friendships not only increase a child’s self-esteem and confidence, but also help children develop the skills for healthy adult relationships--everything from empathy, the ability to listen and console, to the process of arguing and making up"). But that is too little, too late. What we are given, overall, is a portrait of supposedly smart people extending their anti-bullying campaigns into that presumably suspicious realm of childhood friends, and we are to accept this as just another development, for good or for ill, of contemporary life. Well, bullshit.
Again, I know it's crazy to get worked up over another stupid style piece from our paper of record. But please, people--if through some bizarre accident there are actually people who read and take seriously both this blog and the New York Times, I plead with you to cut out this article (or print it out) and then ritually burn it. I am not speaking from offended memory here: I didn't have a best friend growing up, and really don't think I wanted one. Lots of kids don't. But on the other hand, lots of kids do; they need their pairs, their fellows, their gang, their peeps. I can see it in a couple of my daughters. Our oldest has many good friends, but no great friends, and she likes it that way; she is, at heart, a reader and a bit of a loner. But our second oldest, by contrast, is a social creature, as well as a rather commanding one, the sort of girl who might be tempted to see her friends as extensions of herself. The fact that she has found someone (a girl her own age, in a neighborhood down the street, someone she got to know through school and Girl Scouts) with whom she is "best friends," someone she can and does do just about everything with (or everything age-appropriate, anyway), has been both a source of happiness and a blessing to her, stabilizing and maturing her, as she has learned to share with and respect another person, and receive the same in return. If some "friendship coach" at their elementary school tried to break them apart on the playground, in the name of, I don't know, "diversifying their portfolio of friendships," or some such garbage, I would not hold myself responsible for my actions. Neither should any caring parent, I think.