Dr. Helen

Should Kids 'Be Allowed' to Have a Best Friend?

Who has the right to say that a child cannot have a best friend other than maybe a parent? The keepers of your child (well, a whacky psychologist in US News & World Report) now think best friends should be extinct (via Newsalert):

I am always fascinated by trends. And I am especially intrigued by the emerging trend among European schools, and now some American schools as well, to ban best friends.

That’s right. Some schools are attempting to ban the entire concept of children having best friends.

This, to me, seems like a Herculean task. The notion of choosing best friends is deeply embedded in our culture. Nonetheless, there is, in my opinion, merit to the movement to ban having best friends.

So, what do I, as a psychologist, think of this trend where schools are banning best friends? I have thought about it long and hard, and I say bring it on. Let me tell you what brought me to this controversial conclusion.

I am a huge fan of social inclusion. The phrase best friend is inherently exclusionary. Among children and even teens, best friends shift rapidly. These shifts lead to emotional distress and would be significantly less likely if our kids spoke of close or even good friends rather than best friends. And, if kids have best friends, does that also imply that they have “worst friends?” A focus on having best friends certainly indicates there’s an unspoken ranking system; and where there is a ranking system, there are problems. I see kids who are never labeled best friends, and sadly, they sit alone at lunch tables and often in their homes while others are with their best friends.

This psychologist says to bring on banning kids’ choices of friends; I say bring on the tar and feathers, at least metaphorically.