Two young girls in outdoor cafe, eating French fries. (encrier)
Do you remember your first best friends? One of mine walked up to me on the first day of second grade at a new school and asked me, the new girl, “to be her friend.” Relief flooded my little body, and the lesson in kindness never left my heart. Unfortunately, some schools in the U.K., and even here in the United States, are robbing kids of those deep friendships that teach them empathy, character and, yes, even heartbreak.
Why? To ensure that these kids will not have to deal with the normal evolution of relationships, which include the risk of getting hurt. One summer camp in New York physically separated children who seemed to be getting too close to one another as friends, putting them at opposite ends of the dining table or making sure they never had the same activity together.
Contrary to helping children deal with the inevitable rejection in elementary and middle school years, these schools may be contributing to an unhealthy, less stable adulthood.
Kids today are already forced to work twice as hard to learn social awareness, because the pervasiveness of social media that inundates their little lives is slowly replacing the need for direct social contact. Healthy human maturation requires those fragile bonds of friendship early in life; it is the first step to a healthy understanding of self and relationships.
Enforcing some kind of non-BFF standard in schools is ridiculous and hurts less social and overtly social children alike.
This is not to say that every kid will have a large group of friends, but all parents wish at least one close friend for their child. How sad to learn even that is being intercepted. Enforcing some kind of non-BFF standard in schools is ridiculous and hurts less social and overtly social children alike.
Are some limits acceptable? Absolutely. Not allowing party invitations to be handed out in elementary school classes unless everyone is invited is just decent manners.
If the schools need some direction and foresight on this subject, science can help. Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist known for his groundbreaking findings on social circles of human beings, has shown through research that humans have a limit on the number of close friends they can maintain, as well as the number of people in their overall social circle.
Dunbar’s research found that humans have the brain capacity to only sustain about 150 acquaintances in their social sphere. When it comes to close, deep, and meaningful connections with other individuals, that number drastically reduces to around five people. It doesn’t have to be the same five people over the course of a lifetime and, indeed, people change and move, and their friendships follow suit.
And then there are those who will not fill the relational limit that science predicts. That’s okay, too! Some people are only wired to have one or two close friends, while others can’t keep up with their social calendars because of the group of friends they have. Let’s take the pressure off our kids, and let them navigate life in an organic manner.
Friendship is vitally important to us as humans, and it is something that public entities have no right to take away. Children’s social awareness grows every day and is impacted in small ways, even if it is just playing in the sand at recess with their little friends in kindergarten.
A fascinating study released just last month found that those in mid-adolescence who had close friendships grew up to have greater self-worth, less anxiety, and less depression into adulthood than those who sought acceptance into a larger group of peers. If those little ones, in all their innocence, find a dear friend playing in that sandbox, then they should be allowed to have that friend.
In adulthood, best friends are important for everyone, but perhaps even more so for women, who have the capacity as females to develop incredibly deep, lasting relationships with one another. Indeed, C.S. Lewis wrote about friendship as a type of love in The Four Loves. He said: “The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
As a Christian, I find particular comfort in Lewis’ writings. In my early adulthood, way before marriage and children, I found that deep friendships with both men and women filled an empty spot in my life; to this day, I am so grateful for those relationships.
There is true love in the beauty of friendship, which many times goes unnoticed in our hypersexualized culture. By putting boundaries around friendship, or forcing children to deny a natural connection and a true friend, these “anti-best friend” schools are contributing to a lack of social development for the students entrusted to their care. They are making a huge mistake.
Penny Young Nance is president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest women’s public policy organization. She is the author of the forthcoming book "Feisty and Feminine: A Rallying Cry for Conservative Women" (Zondervan 2016).