Now We’re Supposed to Manage Our Kids’ Friendships? Or Else???

Hi Readers — Here’s a lovely guest post responding to The New York Times article from last week, “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding,” by Hilary Stout. The article was all about “friendship coaches” and teaching our kids the “right” way to be friends. Blecch. Enjoy the counterpoint.  L.

Dear Free Range Kids: NJ Mom here. After reading the New York Times friendship article,  I went on such a rant that Lenore asked me to pull myself together and write something up.

The article concerns the latest bizarre twist to the seemingly never-ending micromanaging of middle/upper middle class children. In a nutshell: You can’t have a best friend anymore, it might hurt someone’s feelings. Instead, to avoid exclusivity, cliques, and bullying, children should be friends with a bunch of kids, with no one person being more special than another.

OMG. Can’t we just leave these poor children alone, even for just a minute? Can’t we just let them be mean, or nice, or scared, or bored, or sad or angry or even not a “success” at school? Can’t we, as the adults, simply guide them on their journey to adulthood, instead of preventing them from feeling any pain–ever?

As my mother says, “I sure wouldn’t want to be a mother in this day and age.” She’s right. The pretty straightforward job of childrearing has become so, so…messy and convoluted. And it is just too damn much work.

All my children have to do is open their eyes in the morning, and they have more of everything than do millions and millions of other children, from potable water to two parents who love and enjoy them. We as parents, teachers, “childrearing experts,” and school administrators must let go of this delusion that we can fix everything for our children. They already have everything they need and can manage very well without us constantly messing with the minutia of their lives.

I do hope it’s obvious that I’m not advocating the absence of parenting. I’m simply saying that adults should guide and support the children in their care, not interfere to such a degree that real life passes them by.

To end this post, I decided to go to some true experts on kids and friendship, my 11 year-old daughter and her 13 year-old friend. I asked: Do you think it’s ok to have a best friend? “Yeah, sure, why not?” Might it hurt your other friends’ feelings if you are best friends with just one person? “Sometimes, but usually no, because you’re still friends with the other friends.” Do you think that having just one best friend can create cliques and then maybe even bullying? “No, bullying is when one person punches another person. It also happens because parents didn’t teach them any better.”

And there you have it. — NJ Mom

111 Responses

  1. Perfectly said. Didn’t every one of us have a best friend growing up? You NEED one person that you can absolutely depend on who is outside your family. It helps grow your social skills and helps you adapt to life outside the home.

  2. I think it would be sad not to have a best friend. I would never take that away from my children. I really hope more schools don’t start adding friendship coaches. I’ve said it a million times but the more I read stories like these the more sure I am that homeschooling was the right choice to make.

  3. Just further proof that living in the suburbs is a form of mental illness.

  4. My daughter has had the same best friend for nearly seven years. They understand each other, they defend each other when teased by the social cliques of middle school; my daughter for being creative ( also called “weird” by middle school standards), and her best friend for being shy and easily embarrassed. They both have friends that come and go in addition to their friendship, but at least they can claim they each have one good friend that will stand by them and that’s a pretty good thing to have in my opinion.

  5. Guess what? I had several best friends through elementary school – I also had a really tough time at certain parts. I was teased, not liked, not invited to bday parties. Not the happiest childhood. But guess what??

    I AM TOTALLY FINE!! More than fine actually – I developed lots of coping skills, have tons of friends, great career, great husband, second child on the way – and I am very resilient, very independent and my childhood SHAPED who I was. Wouldn’t change it for the world!

  6. Well, I never really had a best friend as a kid, but that’s because I was an extreme introvert. I was deeply outraged at that article, though, and think it’s insane not try and stop kids from naturally pairing up or grouping up.

    As NJMom’s children said, bullying is when punching occurs, or when parents don’t teach their kids any better. Let them develop natural bonds or not-bonds.

  7. Ahem, ‘think it’s insane to try and stop kids’.

  8. I just see this another example that the “middle-upper” class parents have too much time on their hands. Granted, they will argue that they are busier than ever. But how else to explain such single-minded obsessiveness in child rearing? Our current generation of parents don’t have anything “real” to concentrate on, such as clean water, finding food, fending off bears (or soldiers) and a secure place to sleep. Not that I advocate entering a state of war, but we have is SO GOOD in American, and it’s just sad that this is how so many parents decide to spend their time. Just goes to show that the human brain seems to need trouble, even if the trouble is manufactured.

  9. I think one of life’s biggest surprises is that we continuously meet new friends along the way. At some point I thought I had all the friends I’d have and then, voila, more people pour into our lives and the connection is made. It’s not orchestrated or dictated, it just happens. As an adult and as a kid too. Here’s to staying open to incredible connection with people we meet along the way without the worry that we are hurting someone’s feelings.

  10. not to mention… what about the introverted or shy child who really does not open up in group settings, and who truly needs intimate one-on-one relationships where they can express themselves?

  11. Sounds like the rule they used to have (maybe still have) in monastaries and abbeys agains “particular friendships”. This rule sort of makes sense in a monastic environment when the emphasis is upon creating strong sense of community identity. But last time I checked, most school playgrounds don’t much resemble the cloister.

  12. I have to much to do as a teacher to monitor who is friends with who. I do try to help the kid that seems to have no friends, but even there you have to be careful.

    Kid off by his/herself at recess is it because they have no friends and are being bullied – or are they introverts that need some recharge time. If they don’t have friends, why don’t they have friends? In some cases it is because the Alpha has decided to target a relatively normal kids. Often it is because this kid is having trouble relating and needs help on social skills.

    I think this article is an overcorrection to the mean girl problem. . Mean girl problems are about bullying and need to be addressed. No-one is going to speak to Jane today because Carla said so – the adults need to take the power back from Carla and control the situation.

    I had this in my class this year. This one girl kept saying No-one can wear white shirts. If someone wears a white shirt no-one will talk to them. I asked the other girls why they were giving over their power to this bully. Since this girl was new she hadn’t had the time to develop the mystic I can control all people all the time power and there was a revolt in the ranks. A good number of the girls started wearing white shirts regularly.

    I also found out the real problem – the girl who was trying to be alpha had 2 uniform shirts both blue because they don’t show dirt as much as white. I got her some more shirts from our Social Worker including one brand new white shirt. She was very proud of that shirt and kept it spotless. Our nurse also gave her a personal care kit, because she revealed she was bathing but didn’t always have soap. Social worker go with grandmom, who was raising the kids. They got some help from different agencies and a church.

  13. This is one of those issues where I think people who have had best friends will advocate for them, and people who were alone will think it is a good idea to “ban” them…

    I don’t think there is a problem with best friends being true best friends – I think the problem is the Disney Channel inspired “BFF” mentality where you manufacture a best friend as part of your ploy for popularity. Often that friend is chosen based not on compatibility of core values, common interests, and enjoyment of each other’s company, but on the perceived superficial friendship status value or manipulation value (how well one friend can control the other). That is a problem.

  14. Of COURSE!! Why should we encourage our children to have deep, meaningful relationships with any one (or two) others when they can have shallow, superficial relationships in which they really have nothing invested? I realize the justification these nitwits give is to not hurt “other children’s” feelings, but really this seems like just another way to “protect” our children from the world. This way our children can’t get “hurt” emotionally by anybody.

    Of course, these parents live in total denial in thinking they’ll always be there to protect their kids from the Big Bad World. And then what will their children do without “best friends” around to help when there’s a problem?

  15. My best friend and I met at ages 10 and 12. He’s still my best friend at ages 42 and 44. That friendship was a large part of our surviving the trials and tribulations of teenagehood.

  16. This reminds me of Brave New World:
    “Everyone belongs to everyone else!”
    If you’ve read the book, you know how unpleasant that reality is.

  17. I only wish my son had a best friend. I think he would be much happier. He struggles in the group-think of school.

    He did have 2 best friends in pre-school and his teacher said that was exactly what they expected and liked to see! It was ideal for socialization. Unfortunately, neither of them went to the same elementary school he does and he has so far not developed a good buddy or two.

  18. I totally agree with the frustration over this.

    I couldn’t figure out why my son kept referring to “everyone” in his class or after school group as “friends” until my husband told me it’s this new PC thing where “everyone” is your “friend”

    Ridiculous! Now when my son is bullied or some kid tries to convince him to do something he shouldn’t do he wont use his head and step out of the situation because that person is his “friend”.

    The only thing i see happening is the bullies and trouble makers are laughing all the way to the bank because the trusting kids wont rat them out because the authority figures told them they were all “friends”.

    Arrrrrgh!

  19. I grew up without a best friend and to this day I have trouble relating closely to people. I watch my friends around me who have a “Best” friend and wonder what it would feel like.

    I encourage my children to be friends with most people; but I also help water the one or two friends they each have that they can share anything with. I think it is very important.

    Sunkitty

  20. Caroline, is that what it is? I wondered why my daughter referred to virtually everyone as a friend and was very upset because certain “friends” wouldn’t play with her on the playground. I said, well, then, they aren’t your FRIENDS! The kids who actually play with you – THEY’RE your friends. Your friends are the ones who are nice to you and want to spend time with you. The concept seemed entirely foriegn to her. It took me awhile to get through to her on it, but I think I did. She now refers to only a few people as her friends and the rest as people who go to her school, or are in her class, etc. I thought she was just socially clueless–I wasn’t aware they were teaching “everyone is your friend,” but it makes sense given this wildly strong self-esteem push they’re doing too. Ironically, all this stuff meant to protect and shelter and increase self-esteem seems to be preventing children from building a TRUE and lasting sense of self-worth and self-respect, based on REAL accomplishments and REAL relationships.

  21. Beautifully said!

  22. “everyone is your friend” ? Thanks for the heads up, guys. Really. My son is still in daycare, so I haven’t come up against this one yet, but i will certainly be on the lookout for THAT dangerous little nugget. Because, not everyone IS your friend…. and learning to tell the difference is the key to his safety (and future happiness, too).

  23. As a soon to be lower middle class mom, I can absolutely guarantee that I will not have time to behave this poorly.
    Thank GOODNESS!
    If my kid wants to be a social butterfly, great. If my kid wants to be a hermit with no firneds, groovy. If my kid wants to develop one intensely fast friendship, more power to em.
    It is simply NOT MY BUSINESS.
    We forget that kids are their own damn people. yeesh

  24. The NYT article entitled: “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding” said nothing about the fact that how a person feels about a situation or event is a personal choice. Nobody forces anyone to FEEL BAD about anything. It’s a viewpoint thing. You choose your focus, the rose blossoms or the thorns.

    When something happens that causes negative feelings and behaviors, a teaching moment is being shunned by teachers or parents overseeing the situation. This is the same lack of thinking embraced by believers in zero tolerance rules. Proponents want an easy rule to head off having to deal …

    …well … having to deal with teaching kids to deal with tought situations. No pain, no gain applies here.

    Apparently the “adults” prefer to abdicate responsibility for helping children learn how to think about situations from multiple angles.

    The article also omits another important factor – the difference between introverts and extraverts. My school psychologist wife runs into teachers and parents who lament that “poor little Zack has only one friend.” And you can bet money this is always said by an extrovert.

  25. I do think that helping your kid(s) know how to behave as a friend is good parenting. As is helping your kid know who is his/her real friends are and aren’t.

    Knowing how to pick your friends is probably the most important life skill there is. Remember the times when you were in the position to do something really stupid? It’s not usually a parent that is right there to stop you (or, unfortunately egg you on), it’s a friend. That’s true when you’re a 10, it’s true when you’re 20, and I have found out recently, it’s true when you’re 40.

  26. De-lurking to comment on this article. They also had a spot about it on “The CBS Early Show” today. I heard the piece and ended up ranting to my fiance (neither of us has kids) that the whole thing is insane, kids can handle having a best friend, other kids can handle not being so-and-so’s best friend, and can he please promise me that when we have kids we will be sane parents??? What a way to start a Monday morning…

  27. Although I do see the logic and fairness in not having ONE best friend, TELLING kids that’s how it HAS to be is just wrong. Life is not fair, that’s a simple fact even for us adults.

    Just like us when we were young, so does our children need to learn the trials in tribulations of growing up. That includes learning that not all friendships are forever, some friends will turn their backs on you, trusts will be broken. But at the same time, through these negatives, positives happens. Like that so-so friend turns out to be your best friend (if not, one of the best friends) for life. They learn that even when your feelings get hurt, you can bounce back and overcome. They learn how to choose friends wisely…keywords – THEY LEARN.

    This doesn’t mean that we can’t be or shouldn’t be there for them. We are still obligated to advise, and point things out, teach them right from wrong, and be that shoulder to cry on. But in order for our children to grow strong mentally and emotionally, they will have to deal with the decision making, the overcoming and the moving on their pretty much their own. Even as we adults do now, we can listen to advise from family and friends, but in the end it’s us who have to make that decision thats best for us.

    Of course there are exceptions to this, like if they want to play with a loaded gun, that’s obviously a no brainer. You can’t let them make that decision on their own. Or if they want to commit a crime, yeah you need to be stepping in and straighten them out. But making the decision for them in who they choose as friends? Yeah…no. Stay out of it, unless you know for a fact that it will be detrimental to your child’s well-being.

    As parents, we are there to support and advise our children, not live their lives for them by making them live OUR’s.

  28. I recall having a best friend and what I guess what we could call “auxiliary” best friends, depending on an ever-shifting set of standards. These child-rearing “experts” always praise the flexibility in children and then come up with insane rules like this that assume kids are as rigid and narrow minded as, as … child-rearing “experts,” I guess.

    And SJB, I take issue with your post. I lived in the suburbs for many years and … well … never mind. You’re right.

  29. I know parents of autistic children who employ “friendship coaches” — because our children NEED them. Why a normally-developing neurotypical child would need the sort of intensive intervention an autistic one requires is beyond me. These parents really need to count their many blessings and take a few huge steps backward

  30. “This is one of those issues where I think people who have had best friends will advocate for them, and people who were alone will think it is a good idea to “ban” them…”

    Not entirely. I’m extremely introverted and have never been good at making friends my whole life — even my closest high school and college friendships ended at or soon after graduation with barely a whimper, showing they were quite superficial. Yet, I can recognize a dumb idea when I see it. Just because I’m not good at making friends doesn’t mean that I perceive other people’s friendships as a threat to their treatment of me or others.

  31. “Apparently the “adults” prefer to abdicate responsibility for helping children learn how to think about situations from multiple angles. ”

    Bingo, nail on the head, and every other expression that means you got that right.

  32. I was an introvert, and I had only one friend growing up, and she was my best friend, and without her friendship I probably would have had a very different view of my middle school experience particularly. Telling children what kind of friendships to have seems incredibly intrusive and even a bit dangerous to me. And the shallowness factor, as Cyn pointed out, is something that I think caring parents would try to avoid in their children.

  33. LOL, SJB. How right you are. Why is everything so screwed up in the ‘burbs? It’s like suburban parents have decided to grow orchids in greenhouses instead of encouraging their kids to be resilient dasies. How ridiculous, and WRONG to discourage the development of best friendships. It’s such a normal, important developmental stage for kids to have best friends.

    I have two girls, ages 4 1/2 and 8 months. Often I find the little-kid world to be so stifling!

  34. PS. Why can’t kids just have normal childhoods????????

  35. Okay, I’m back for another comment already. One thing that just occurred to me is, how are these kids going to know how to form exclusive, life-partner relationships when they become adults? I read some where years ago that forming exclusive, usually same-gender friendships as children helps kids learn how to navigate romantic relationships later on in life. The early childhood friendships are a safe way to practice for exclusive relationships later on in life.

  36. Gosh. Every time it seems more and more that “childrearing experts” are actually talking about beauty-contest-winning caniches!
    Really, their ultimate goal is to have a correctly-fed, intelligence-boosted, blindly obedient pet in the shape of a child!
    Doesn’t anyone realize that the natural thing for a parent to yearn, is a HAPPY child? Not a content child, not a satisfied child. A truly happy kid who lives life to the fullest like only children can.
    So now they’re trying to moderate frienship, just in case an excess of FRIENSHIP, for God’s sake, is harmful!
    What’s next? Careful with your kids’ smiles! Lips that extend to more than 2 inches are prone to create irreversible wrinkles later in life!

  37. (Sorry, that’s friendship with a “d”. Something’s wrong with my keyboardddddd)

  38. That is so unhealthy. How can you deprive a child of the basic experience of seeing an interpersonal relationship through from start to finish? Whoever came up with this idea is a complete idiot. I hope he/she gets run out of town on a rail very soon.

    This country is getting more “Brave New World” every day. Help!

    I was the unpopular kid throughout school, the “it,” the one who developed a negative attitude toward school friendships because I was often the odd one out. But guess what – that’s because I was odd! Not because everyone else was rotten. (Though some of them could have used a few pointers on consideration.) Also, I did have my own geeky little circle of friends. I generally had a best friend. So what if half of the class ignored me? I didn’t care that much. Everyone is different!

    See, that’s what scares me. The idea that “everyone is different” (beneath the surface) seems to some like a problem. Diversity isn’t about skin color, it’s about diversity of thought, personality, experience, potential . . . and relationships!

  39. Personally, I think having a best friend is good training for having a spouse. Instead of just dumping them and moving on to someone else, you take the time to communicate and work out your problems because you care enough about them.

  40. I haven’t read the comments yet, but when I read the original article, I thought it was the single most ridiculous thing I’d read in a good long time. What a complete load of rubbish. How anyone could find the idea that any human being is better off with a large number of shallow acquaintances than a few close, intimate friends is beyond me.

  41. I had a best friend in grade school then we parted ways in Jr. High. I cried. I found my next best friend Freshman year in H.S. and guess what? We’re still best friends 24 years later. I found my other best friend at Jr. College. Guess what? We’re STILL best friends. I will never, ever tell either one of my girls that they cannot be besties with one person. It’s just wrong. I do tell them it’s good to have a bunch of friends, but if someone is less than a friend to you, you needn’t be a friend to them.
    Just one more reason to move to that deserted isle…

  42. Ridiculous! Kids have best friends, as do adults! I have acquaintances, friends and best friends. Not all relationships are equal. People need to relax and stop micro managing.

  43. Sooo…. let me get this straight. We’re telling our kids that they should befriend everyone in their class to avoid victimization, and by extension bestow the trust and affinity usually reserved for a best friend. Meanwhile, we’re telling our kids not to trust any stranger, and in fact, strangers are dangerous and will always always always try to hurt you. If I was a kid, I’d be damned confused. I agree with what the others have said. Let the kids sort out their own problems. Hate to say it, but getting bullied, teased, ostracized ect is probably the best way to learn how to deal with that stuff later in life. And yes, it is a VERY important skill to have.

  44. The only thing I would change about “best friends” is the mentality “best” is the top of an ironclad hierarchy system. I’m sure it wasn’t that way for everyone, or even most kids, growing up but I always felt like the third wheel. One friend would declare another their best friend and thus I was demoted to “second best” or lower.

    Though I also got screwed over by the school system. Every year I ended up in a class with nobody I knew from the previous year, so it was almost like moving to a new school system yearly.

  45. @Sarah – Brave New World apparently was just the operating manual for the way our society should be run.

    Seriously… no best friends?

    Well, we may as well do away with marriage too – since favoritism of one man or woman for a life partner over another might hurt feelings down the road.

    Yep – let’s take away kids ability to be close to someone so we just screw ourselves from every angle. Ugh. I hate suburbia with a passion akin to a thousand suns. Leave people alone, goddamn it.

  46. Interestingly enough (and I’m not sure I agree), I’ve heard that disorders like autism are a sort of form of evolution. It would seem like our society is growing increasingly individualized and that being autistic (and believe me, I don’t know much about it and the different forms) is like a coping mechanism. It’s an interesting theory, but I hope we can get a hold of the reins once more and be community minded again.

    Do all these teachers and parents expect that they will be able to be involved in these aspects of life forever? At some point these kids will need to manage things on their own, and unfortunately, it seems like they will be unable to. I have 4 years to wait before I need to make the decisions, but if things don’t start turning around, I think I’ll be considering home school even more seriously as well!

  47. Dang, it’s the Victorian Era all over again! Unless someone is outright a bad influence, why would anyone poo-poo the children their child hangs out with?

    This micromanaging stuff has got to stop.

  48. Some more outraged reactions to the original NY times article are over at the Washington Examiner.
    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/Examiner-Opinion-Zone/e-d-kain-The-paranoid-delusions-of-the-expert-class–96761404.html

  49. “Well, we may as well do away with marriage too – since favoritism of one man or woman for a life partner over another might hurt feelings down the road.”

    I was coming to the comments to post this exact sentiment almost word for word. Perhaps while we’re at it we should just put Valium in the water supply so no one will ever have any bad emotions EVER.

  50. When my kids get their report cards in school and their effort marks (notice I didn’t say grades) are high, I congratulate them on working hard. When they come home and their marks say they were slacking off, I tell them not to slack and I do not call the teacher and ask for more time to finish a project. They get to walk out the consequences of their mistakes, because someday they will no longer be children and there will not be a mother around to advocate for their precious self esteem when they slack off at work. Life is a beautiful, joyous, painful, agonizing, exciting, boring, aching experience that I actually want them to experience! If I hide them from every hurt and failure I deny them also the pleasure of true hard-won success.

    Relationships are the same way. True friendship comes from shared experiences good and bad, shared dreams, trust and sometimes they end in heartbreak. Ah, but the ones that last a lifetime are such jewels. I can protect my child from feeling left out by teaching every child not to have a best friend, but why on earth would I prevent my kid from the experience of that lifelong friend?

    Maybe we could help our children avoid heartache, but my opinion is that heartache is often the vessel for far greater things that we would also help our children avoid. What a shame that would be.

  51. Friendship is a most intriguing concept. My memory of my boyhood was that there was a ‘gang’ of friends which fluctuated over months and the years. Sometimes there were boys that made you feel downright uncomfortable. Sometimes they became friends the next year. And certainly I recognise trying to work through some of the emotions and sense of self tied up in that. Adolescence (and the new adolescence seems to be as early as 10 years) becomes a whole new kettle of fish. Here the tribal social nature of the human being really begins to exert itself. The natural consequence is that cliques are formed and the majority of adolescents become party or prey to a tribal mentality – keeping many out and only a few in. This is considerably detrimental to social function in the global society. Adolescents need constant challenge by the adults about their attitudes, their being in the world, their identity. To do less is to be less of an adult. Most children and adults don’t osmose the knowledge and skills for working with diverse, or large groups of people. So they do need training for it. I know this mom feels the best friends is good, and I would agree. And I hope her children have many best friends as they go through lifew, and many, many people considered ordinary reliable friends, and thousands who they consider comfortable acquaintences. But that will only happen if those children and adolescents are guided, challenged to learn how they make that happen, for it is not yet a natural cultural thing, but a neccessary thing for their future.

  52. Well, this is everywhere today. Just saw something on teachers’ micromanaging kids’ friendships on the Higher Ed Chronicle site. Here’s the comment I made there:

    Well, now I know the source of the difficult and unpleasant experiences my daughter, and as a result our family, endured when we first moved to the big city where we now live.

    We had moved from a fairly remote rural location where our daughter had few peers and was, as a result, isolated and lonely. She was delighted to move to a city full of children and immediately acquired a best friend plus a group of girls with whom she had a great deal in common.

    She was devastated and we were gobsmacked when the teacher in charge of student ‘welfare’ at her school immediately set to intervening and trying – apparently – to break up the friendship. The friend was also very distressed, as it was not the first time the school had ‘intervened’ in her friendships, and her family moved her to a different school as a consequence.

    This happened in Australia, btw, so the idiotic ideas have spread far and wide.

    Just read a comment [on the HEC article] about how friendships have gotten much more fraught at the elementary school level.. Even here on the other side of the Pacific pond things have gotten way worse in terms of relationships between kids at the upper elementary level, and that’s even so between my having family#1 and family #2 (older kids and younger kids.

    Kids are the lighning rods for what is happening in wider society, which translates to tensions, etc, in families and thus to kids.

    I actually first saw an example of a class of kids taking each other apart about 3 decades ago when I was working as a school psychologist. I was called in because the tensions and conflct was getting right out of hand. Talking to the kids it became apparent that the tensions were the result of the pressure they were under from aspirational families. Their classmates where not just their friends, they were also their rivals. It poisoned their friendships.

    The world is now more dog eat dog than ever and we see this in how kids relate to each other. Everyone is everyone’s rival/enemy.

    It is worse in the type of suburbs in which we now live, where nearly no kids go to the local high school, but most are sent to one of a very many elite private schools in the area. Parents start agonising about the ‘best’ school and this affects the relations between their children and their classmates. If the school you are going to is SO significant and if your parents have chosen you the ‘best’ what does it say about the decisions made on behalf of your (by now former) friends?

    I watched this destroy the lovely friendships that I described in the comment, above. I was taken aback when I witnessed this happening, as it had not been true of my older kids’ upper elementary school experiences.

  53. A long time ago, I had a best friend. For some reason, unknown to me, some girl who hated me decided to start a “club” for “cool” girls. Alas, I was not invited. My best friend, however, was. She was unhappy to be without me, but I wasn’t going to stop her from hanging out with her club “friends” on the schoolyard. I instead hung out with the 1 other girl in our grade who didn’t seem to have been invited into the club. We had an okay time by ourselves, playing on the jungle gym. Several days later my BFF came to me apologizing, saying she should never have joined this silly “club” if I wasn’t in it. Then some more mutual friends switched sides. By the end of the week, the club was non-existant, and I never raised a finger or said a bad word against it. I was just a good friend, and everybody knew it.

    Long after that my best friend moved away. We tried to stay close, but failed. I’ve had other “best” friends since, and now, my husband is my BFF. I learned early on that when you treat people with respect, they’ll favor you…and I learned that first from my then best friend, who basically ignored the popular opinion of the entire 5th grade female class because she didn’t want to be separated from me any longer.

    Everyone needs a best friend, if only for a little while.

  54. I’ve been seeing this article everywhere, and it just infuriates me. I had only one best friend in middle school, the hardest years ever, and it was the ONLY thing that blunted the harsh effects of bullying for me. What on Earth are they thinking, that every close friendship could end in murder like in Heavenly Creatures?!

  55. My hope is for my kids to have a lot of friends, but I expect that there will be favorites. That’s normal, and how things are going so far. I would be very unhappy if the school started telling my kids that they couldn’t be best friends with someone only because they were discouraging that type of friendship.

  56. “Interestingly enough (and I’m not sure I agree), I’ve heard that disorders like autism are a sort of form of evolution. It would seem like our society is growing increasingly individualized and that being autistic (and believe me, I don’t know much about it and the different forms) is like a coping mechanism.”

    If it’s a form of evolution, it’s certainly an odd one, considering how few autistic individuals (perhaps as low as five percent) are ever able to live independently. The idea that it’s a coping mechanism is absolutely ludicrous to me — my daughter was diagnosed at 20 months and most certainly had no idea that our society was growing increasingly individualized and that it would be to her evolutionary benefit to evolve!

  57. Hmmm. Well yes this “breaking up best friends” thing is taking it way too far, and there’s nothing better than having a close friend.

    But on the other hand, growing up in 80’s I watched a lot of really really terrible bullying visited on one or two kids by groups of other kids. I think we would have all benefited from some of today’s anti-bullying sensitivity type stuff. Back then the teachers let “kids be kids” and as a result several kids really were damaged by bullying (at least one I know never overcame it, decades later).

    I’m glad I never had anyone “intervene” between my best friends and me, but I really wish more adults would have been more involved in helping guide all of us kids through the Lord of the Flies school environment of Middle School and Jr. High.

    This story shows the pendulum swinging too far, perhaps, but unlike some of the free range outrages, at least here I understand and respect where this sort of thing is coming from – trying to build a group of kids who treat each other with respect is an admirable goal and might actually end up giving kids a better childhood experience.

    Sometimes there *is* progress, perhaps.

  58. Don’t people have anything better to do? Kids don’t need to be protected from friendship. Not only do many children have best friends, but they are completely aware of the other sets of besties all around them. Rarely does that seem to upset anyone. Do these people even remember childhood? I do. Sometimes it was rough, sometimes it was magical, sometimes it was scary, and a lot of the time it was just plain fun. The school yard was a valid and important subculture all its own. Kids had their own lingo, their own social mores and their own hierarchy — always have, always will. It is a mistake to judge childhood based on the expectations and experiences of adulthood. Not to dismiss the importance of adult guidance and concern, but there is such a thing as being overly involved. I truly believe that we are stealing away opportunities for our children to learn or to create any real feelings or memories when we constantly allow grown-ups to interfere. Each of us must go through all of the stages of childhood in order to become a fully realized adult. And we have to do it for ourselves. No one else can do it for us. Why do these people fail to see that children are real individuals with real lives, not just some extension of their parents. I have never, ever thought of myself as my parents’ possession and I can’t imagine thinking of my own in children that way. I was given the gift of life, and despite the ups and downs, I am so thankful everyday to have had the chance to live and learn in my own way. Why would I want to deny my children the same opportunity? Seems very selfish to me. I had a best friend growing up — different best friends at different stages — and I still do. Close friendships are a blessing. Why would anyone choose to deny or begrudge such a thing? I guess these “experts” mean well enough. I suppose they just can’t bear the thought of Precious getting her little heart broken. I can understand that — I have three kids of my own, and I know that when they are hurting I am hurting. But that is not a good enough reason to rob them of the opportunity to live a real life. The unfortunate reality is that unless Precious is going to live out her days scared and alone, she’s going to have to put herself out there eventually — without a safety net. And if she does, she will probably shed a few tears, mourn of few losses and lick a few wounds. But I think that’s okay. After all, aren’t those tough moments the ones that really teach us to savor the good stuff?

  59. My best friend from first grade became my best friend when we were ejected from our first grade at church school for acting up and had to sit in the hall to “think about” what we did.

    Four decades later, he is still my best friend. That is a gift of inestimable value. To think that we would encourage children not to form those lifelong bonds, to have someone who is not family but closer than a brother perhaps to share life and it’s twists and turns is heartbreaking. Truly.

    That early best friend can and should be a model for many other relationships to come. Without my best friend–and the handful of close friends who have gone with me on this journey–I would be so much less the man that I am.

    Not to give kids the chance to feel ALL the emotions–good and bad, jealousy, love, hurt, joy, and the special closeness of someone who knows you as well as you know yourself–if nit better–is to deprive them of their humanity pure and simple.

  60. When I read the original article from msnbc, I laughed. How ridiculous! Yes, sometimes my feelings got hurt as a child because a friend I was hoping to become “best” friends with gravitated toward someone else. Guess what? I got over it and found another best friend….one who grew up to be my maid of honor, and I hers. And should I mention I probably had a circle of 15-20 friends I ran with consistently as a child? Having a best friend certainly didn’t hurt my popularity!

    P.S. The more I visit this site, the more I’m leaning toward homeschooling!

  61. i agree about the best friend issue, everybody needs one!! At my daughter’s school (she is in 5th grade) in MInneapolis the kids are told that they have to play with everybody so that nobody is excluded or hears “no” I have been bringing up my daughter to say no and that she has a choice in who she plays with. Not hearing no and expecting everybody to want to and then play with each other is unrealistic and not teaching kids life skills that they need. I want my daughter to make her own decision and believe in her decisions and her school’s policy is counter-productive to this.

  62. I honestly believe that basic human nature has not changed for centuries. Why do some “intelligent” people feel the need to reinvent the wheel?

  63. Interestingly enough (and I’m not sure I agree), I’ve heard that disorders like autism are a sort of form of evolution. It would seem like our society is growing increasingly individualized and that being autistic (and believe me, I don’t know much about it and the different forms) is like a coping mechanism. It’s an interesting theory, but I hope we can get a hold of the reins once more and be community minded again.

    Yeah, um… evolution doesn’t actually work like that.

    For that matter, neither does autism. Autistic individuals form relationships and can have friends and can love people just like everybody else. Many autistics need less (even significantly less) social contact than most NTs, but that doesn’t mean that other people don’t matter at all. (For that matter, there is such a person as the social, extroverted autistic. I don’t fathom it myself, as my goal when around people is often to go back to my book ASAP, but they do exist!)

    Now, if you want to know why the “increase” in autism, I can give you a bunch of reasons that tie in together nicely.

    1. A change in diagnostic standards for autism, which not only prevented the misdiagnosis of many autistics as “childhood schizophrenic” (I know the two are nothing alike, but it used to be that the default diagnosis was that instead of autism, don’t ask ME why) but also reduced the number of children diagnosed with the lump term “mental retardation”.

    2. Increased awareness of autism. This is a bit of a snowball effect – as more people are aware of autism, more children are diagnosed as autistic. Then the statistics for autism change, and people who used to think “One in ten thousand!” now realize it’s more common and are more likely to consider it. So more people get diagnosed autistic, and awareness increases. As more people are aware of autism….

    3. The concept of the autism “spectrum” and the inclusion of the new diagnosis “Asperger’s” in the DSM. Back when I was a child, you couldn’t get a diagnosis if you could talk.

    Here I was, and I would’ve failed the CHAT – the “checklist for autism in toddlers”. I would’ve failed it as a toddler, and I probably would have failed it as an older child. I didn’t point at anything, for any reason, until eight or nine, and I still don’t really do the whole “eye contact” thing. Sensory processing issues? Boy, did I ever have those! Social skills? Boy, did I ever NOT have those! And my parents *knew*… but they couldn’t get me diagnosed. Why? Because I was a. a girl b. gifted and c. verbal.

    But you know, as an adult, when I went to get diagnosed, I was told it was “very obvious”. If anything, it’s less obvious now than when I was a kid.

    So there are a lot of kids running around now with a diagnosis of AS, or PDD-NOS, or even autism who would not have been diagnosed when I was a child. Or if they’d managed to get any diagnosis, it would’ve been one of ADHD, most likely.

    Now, all these three things feed into each other, and you can see that. And as far as I’m concerned, they pretty much explain the rise in diagnoses over the past few decades. But there are a few other things to consider…

    1. Adults now go in to get diagnosed for autism as well. I actually help moderate a comm for people on the spectrum, and there’s a common story to this:

    The poster’s child, or their nephew, or their grandkid in some cases has recently been diagnosed with autism. During the process, somebody made the connection between the kid’s autism and how this poster was as a kid. So now the poster is getting a diagnosis OR is considering doing so but isn’t sure if it’s worth the time and energy.

    This story comes up ALL. THE. TIME. These people haven’t recently become autistic, they’ve been that way their whole lives. They just didn’t realize there was a name for it until they started looking to help their kids.

    But this goes back to that stupid “refrigerator mother” hypothesis. Kanner was the one who first made the observation that parents of autistic kids often were a little odd themselves, but in his original paper he came to the obvious conclusion that he was looking at something hereditary. And he probably was, which brings us up to….

    2. Nowadays with increased mobility and more job options for people who are somewhat on the spectrum (or just within the Broader Autistic Phenotype) there’s increased chances for autistics to get married and have kids, thus increasing the odds that they’re going to pass on autistic traits… especially if they marry somebody somewhat like themselves. If there IS any actual increase in incidence, instead of simply in diagnoses, this is almost certainly why.

  64. I think the whole idea of discouraging close friendships to the point of actively separating kids whose bond is uncomfortably close for the teachers and other kids is pretty shitty. Forget this mentality of discouraging exclusivity, that’s the way of the world. Some things are exclusive. People like some more than others. What they should be discouraging is meanness. Kids form groups, sure, but school admins don’t have to let kids mock, harrass and bully others. Going to the extreme of trying to pretend all the kids get along and are friends is stupid and teaches them nothing about how relationships works. I wish my son would come home and tell me his teacher/yard coach told him he couldn’t play with his best friend because they’re excluding other kids. Oh, I’d have to give those admins a piece of my mind.

    Play dates are hard enough, now we have to organize an entire group? Come. On.

  65. ” Do you think that having just one best friend can create cliques and then maybe even bullying? “No, bullying is when one person punches another person. It also happens because parents didn’t teach them any better.”

    Um… no. Bullying does not have to involve physical violence and often it doesn’t.

    Bullying is common and most kids get through it. But they shouldn’t have to. Children have a right to spend their days somewhere that is not a living hell. Why do we sometimes think it’s ok for children to deal with things we wouldn’t accept in any other context? Would we allow our children to treat their family like human garbage or would we allow such behaviour in the workplace?

    It’s misguided to try and make everyone friends. But it’s a good think to help kids understand how important it is to be nice to others. It is part of civilizing the little savages.

    We should encourage children to be accepting of different kinds of people and be kind and open to friendship. But that doesn’t mean they HAVE to be friends with anyone. Friendship should be a personal choice.

    But kids can be tortured without anyone making a fist.

    Children need to be taught that it is just as bad to be mean to someone even if they don’t get caught and no one gets physically hurt. The old sticks and stones adage is what we say to kids who are bullied, but it’s not true. Words can hurt. Silence can hurt too.

    I do think it is interesting that someone noted above that making everyone “a friend” may make it harder to for some children to speak out against others kids who are being mean. That is very much like children to take what adults try and teach and fit it into what they already think. eg. no “squealing” or whatever kids call it these days. They always come out with something we’re not expecting.

  66. Uly – that was very interesting. Thanks.

  67. I find it awful to imagine people trying to ‘prevent’ twosomes at summer camps… I would have loved to have been able as a kid to form a strong friendship with kids I met at summer activity things – so I would have been gutted if I started forming bond with someone and then got separated from them half the time!

    Yet again, this is a move that gravely underrates children’s resilience and treats them as though they’re made of china, thus undermining resilience, problem-solving and social skills.

    I was never the strongest socialiser, I find it hard to make friends, yes – but is my life hopeless and ruined? No, it’s fine. Parents have no need to castigate themselves if their kids aren’t super socially fluent – they’ll manage well enough.

  68. I had a best friend in 7th and 8th grade, Jeanne Anne Purcell. LOL, we eventually got suspected of being lesbians for a short time! They called us the giggle twins. Jeanne Anne used to make me laugh so much I’d pee in my pants.

    Jeanne Anne’s mother was a little uneducated and Southern White trashy actually, and my mother did disapprove of the friendship I’m pretty sure. Truthfully, Jeanne Anne was a bad influence on me and got me started smoking pot. I’ve lost touch with her for 30 years, last I heard she moved to San Diego. She had a sister named Loretta.

    Anyways, the article is funny, these must be middle and upper middle class schools. I do think it’s good for schools to try to prevent bullying, I’m in favor of that.

  69. Yes, it is simplistic to say that bullying is when someone punches someone else, and yes, there are other forms that shouldn’t be tolerated. Been there, been the victim. For years and years.

    But the point still stands — bullying does not happen because people form close friendships. It happens because children act out in harmful ways to other children. Even to the extent that forming friendships and cliques sets up (or maybe I should say allows for) situations where bullying is a temptation or a threat, it is not the fault of the friendships, it is the bully’s choice to act as a bully, and it is the bully’s specific way of reacting that should be addressed, not the innocuous and even positive tendency of kids to form friendships.

  70. This just smacks of one more way that the public school system is biased against introverts. Introverts that, generally, prefer one-on-one interactions and can be overwhelmed by large group interactions. Introverts that are normal and make up 25% of our population.

    Just because most educators are extroverted does not make that the only appropriate way to be.

    Imagine a child that gets totally overwhelmed in groups and has difficulty behaving there, this just sets them up for bullying.

  71. K, as a fellow introvert, I couldn’t agree more. If my elementary school had forced me to always interact in large groups I would have been downright invisible!

    And.. to those of you who are threatening to withdraw from all of this and take the homeschooling path — *please* don’t, we need you. As a single mom, homeschooling won’t be an option for me. Please don’t leave my son and I all alone with the crazy idiots!

  72. Pfft. No one needs *just* one special person they can tell everything to, but everyone needs *at least* one. I think it would be absolutely fantastic for each and every child to have three or four of those people close enough one might call “best friend”, but I really don’t think that there’s anyway to dictate that they do.

    I’m an introvert that has several “best friends” if by “best friend” one means that traditional “can tell secrets to, doesn’t need to hide, is always there for me” friend. And I prefer them in one-on-one, interactions, at most a group of three. I think I am the luckiest of people to have *even one* person I’m that sure of, never mind several. But then, that handful of “best friends” are the only people I’ll really call “friends.” And we aren’t a group, we’re several individuals.

    Re: the autism thing. Our son was four before we even started looking to get him diagnosed. He’s very obviously autistic to any diagnostician/doctor/psychologist who looks at him. To my MIL, he was just like my husband, her brother’s son, and her cousin’s second son. In other words, normal. And, to my parents, he was enough like me that he’d be “fine.” After my son got diagnosed, I was reading down the list of Asperger’s symptoms with my husband and we were both saying, “I don’t do that…anymore,” “I still do that…”What, that’s not normal?” Neither of us got so much as an ADHD diagnosis, our parents thought were were gifted-and-introverted-but-normal, we put a great deal of effort into acquiring minimal social skills as adults (it was our primary focus for years), and we can now appear pretty normal, for brief periods.

  73. About bullying. It is hard to define, but the reason it happens to the extent it does is NOT because of “exclusive” or “best” friendships. It’s because children are allowed to be mean and rude to others. They are not the same thing!

    Children need to be taught that:

    1) EVERYONE deserves your respect.

    2) YOU DECIDE who deserves your friendship.

    Please teach your kids politeness – what it is (practice at home) and why it’s important. Then the kids who are “excluded from [certain] friendships” at least won’t be tortured as well.

    It is not necessary to have a bunch of friends. If you have lots, more power to you, but if you have only 1 or 2, you are still probably OK! My mom always told me that no matter who you are, you can count your true friends on the fingers of one hand. So far I’ve agreed with her.

    As far as teachers calling all the kids in the class “friends,” my kids’ daycare/preschool does that. I assumed it was just an easier way to say “classmate.” It certainly doesn’t offend me. Little kids switch friends every other minute anyway. But I don’t assume they are going to teach the kids that they have to be “friends” in the traditional sense with everyone. If they do, I will give my kids the “other view.”

  74. There have been a lot of great comments here today. Re the autism thing, especially diagnoses as adults. My question is, why? I’m almost positive that I could get a diagnosis as autistic, or at least Asperger’s. But I’m so grateful that I didn’t get one as a child, and fail to see how it would benefit me now. It seems to me that we just need to re-expand (is that even a word) our definition of normal, and accept that many, if not most, normal kids need guidance and help to understand relationships.

    Someone above commented that he was the odd man out because he was odd. That was me, and I have to say that getting friends who can tell you when you’re being weird can be helpful if you are trying to fit in. Sometimes I wasn’t trying. An important lesson to learn is that you decide whether it’s important to you to adjust yourself to be accepted by a group. But if you do want to, it’s good to have some kind of mentor to help you see what you may be doing to alienate people.

  75. @Cynthia: Form most adults I would imagine it’s less about getting an official label, and more about finally being able to breath a sigh of relief and know what’s “wrong.” To know that they’re not just stupid or weird or unable to control themselves properly. There’s a reason they are this way, there are things they can do to minimize their problems, there’s support out there, and they can give themselves permission to stop trying to hard to be “normal.”

    I don’t want a label, and I have purposely avoided seeking it out. But it is rather nice to know that I won’t succeed in making myself a social butterfly, because it means I can blow off the people who try to bully me into it. It means that expecting me to “just know” somethings was completely off base and I was RIGHT to be upset at being blown off when I asked how to do establish a routine, or remember to do things, or why someone’s actions didn’t match their expressed intentions. Knowing that the people blowing me off for not “just getting it” were WRONG, that it wasn’t stupidity, has helped me immeasurably. It helped me take the blame off myself long enough to say, “Hey, wait, that wouldn’t have been right under ANY circumstances!” But after a lifetime of being told I was just deficient, and I could do better if I tried, but I was obviously just failing to annoy people, I HAD to find a way to take the blame off of me and onto something I couldn’t control FIRST.

  76. IMO, both Cynthia and Karen have good points here. I have a son who is probably just inside the high end of the spectrum, but I have steadfastly resisted any pursuit of any kind of diagnosis, because I believed that in his case, a label would be heavy baggage, but with an aware, encouraging, and supportive environment (a very gentle Christian school atmosphere for three years, homeschooling until 8th, and an academically focused high school where the social pressure is not non-existent, but is lessened by the goal-orientation and of the students and better than average atmosphere of mutual respect) he could learn the coping mechanisms without the “blowing off” reactions that Karen’s suffered from. At 17, it seems to have been a good approach, for him. He’ll always be “one of those geeky kids,” but he’s academically successful, happy, with a level of social interaction he’s comfortable with, and is gradually learning the tools to navigate the situations he finds challenging.

    I really support the idea of broadening the idea of “normal,” without denying that specific challenges exist. What needs to happen is that people need to admit that it’s normal to have challenges that are different from other people’s challenges. But in no way do I want to paper over the fact that people farther along the spectrum have issues that will never allow them to be “normal” in the commonly understood sense.

  77. I find the autism discussion here interesting. What Uly said, I figured out by observing my own family. Nice to know that Uly and I have something in common!

    Funny story. Recently my brother’s kid had to be evaluated psychologically due to a “no tolerance” thing at school that I posted about before. This was the first time my brother heard his kid had Asperger’s symptoms. (I have known this since his kid was a tot.) His wife thought, “yeah, I can kinda see that” but my brother was like “HEY, there’s nothing wrong with my kid!” My brother has Asperger’s too, so how would he notice it? Of course, Bro has no “diagnosis” and isn’t likely to get one. Asperger’s is just a fancy word for “nerdy” or “nutty professor.”

    I dislike using the word “autism” and “asperger’s” in the same context. I have a severely autistic cousin (who is institutionalized), and I really don’t think the two are comparable. People with Aspergers are socially awkward compared to US “norms,” but they can function and be very successful in society. Can they benefit from extra focus on certain graces and organizational skills? Yes. But that’s no different from saying that bookworms could benefit from team sports or that athletes could benefit from reading circles. Everyone is different, and that’s a good thing.

    I agree with prior posters who say that what we really need to do is ACCEPT our nerdy, awkward kids as being still within the “normal” range. Instead of saying they are on the right end of the “autism” spectrum, how about saying they are on the left end of the “normal” spectrum? EVERYONE has room for improvement. My brilliant nephew will never need an academic tutor, and probably spends very little time on required homework. So he has more time to spend on social stuff like Boy Scouts. In fact, today he is hiking in some remote place with his Boy Scout troop, including his “best friend” (yes, even Aspies can make friends!). Let him be HAPPY and PROUD OF HIMSELF instead of focusing on what he isn’t doing perfectly. He will put forth the effort to improve his social skills as he develops the desire to do so – as my brother did when he met his first real girlfriend around age 17-18 (without ever being diagnosed!).

  78. What next? Tell your daughter that she can’t have one boyfriend, because it might make all the other boys feel bad, so she has to sleep around a lot?

  79. About the “urge to homeschool” – like a prior poster, I will probably send my kids to school not because I am happy with the way schools are managed, but because I probably wouldn’t be able to do right by them with homeschooling. So, I wonder what I need to do in order to neutralize the nonsense they will hear at school.

    I wonder if it would be worthwhile to have a discussion about that, here or elsewhere – what do we need to tell our schoolkids to keep them thinking despite the mind-numbing that goes on at school?

    I’ve thought of some ideas. But it would be nice to hear what others are doing/thinking.

  80. Okay, I finally read the NYT piece. That is so twisted that anyone would want to prevent kids from forming lasting bonds. And that every kid should be friends with every other kid. It just doesn’t work like that! THis is so wrong on so many levels.

  81. On adult diagnosis:

    I have a co-worker who is diagnosed ADHD and an adult relative who I am convinced is ADHD. The latter has that fear of being labeled and strongly resists any discussion. Knowing the former, I think the latter could benefit from some simple self awareness and coping strategies. The ADHD has taken a real toll over the years, as the coping strategies that they have developed themselves are ‘short term’ kinds of things. They work here and now, but they destroy relationships .

  82. @SKL: for a start, we have sites like this that at least are making us aware of the ridiculousness out there. I really had not taken notice of the fact that my son’s daycare refers to his classmates as his “friends”… now I know to watch my own language choices more carefully. I know there are children in there that my son is not too fond of, and some he has a special bond with. And I’ve stopped referring to them all indiscriminately as “friends”. LIke I said, it’s a start.

  83. When my mother realized my beloved best friend’s parents were divorced (I’m a ’50’s kid) she forbid me to associate with her anymore.

    I was devastated, utterly and completely. I obeyed my mother our of fear.

    I never again had a ‘best’ girlfriend, or even a good friend , which at nearly 60 years old still breaks my heart.

    Deeply shy, I ended up a lonely little girl who stayed off by herself on the playground and chosen last for adult sponsored games. Gail was my alter ego who ‘allowed’ me to be brave and sociable. I just did’nt have that on my own as a child.

    I ran into Gail years later, but the damge was done. She had moved on to others, and was no longer my friend.

    Fortunately, I have three sisters whom I am very close to, and my husband is my best friend.

    The thought of this trend ‘graduating’ to adult life partner relationships is not far fetched.

    I know a LOT of women were upset once my husband was “off the market”, and their self esteem damaged when he only wanted me.

    I’m glad no ‘coach’ was there to break up that friendship. I can’t imagine my life without him.

  84. “No, bullying is when one person punches another person. ”

    No, that’s a fight, or an assault. Bullying happens without physical contact. And believe me, it still hurts.

  85. If parents acted like parents and school administrators actually told the parents what was going on we wouldn’t need ‘coaches”. When my daughter, Sarah, was in 5th grade one of the girls decided that Sarah was her best friend and wasn’t allowed to be friends with anyone else. Being the sweet kid that she is, Sarah tried to stay friends with everybody. I had no idea any of this was going on, neither did I know that the school counselor had gotten involved to try to get all the girls to work it out. Once I did find out, I told Sarah that she did not have to be friends with the girl causing trouble, that she isn’t a friend if she makes you stop talking to other people. At that point who cares if the trouble maker “feels bad”. She SHOULD feel bad. That’s the only way she’ll stop!

  86. I can understand interfering in CERTAIN friendships. After much thought, I asked my daughter’s preschool to put her and her best friend in separate classes next year. The friend is aggressive, has developed some behavioral issues and tends to run off other children (they don’t really enjoy playing with her). I feel bad about it since they are such good friends and have been since babyhood but I don’t feel that my slightly odd 4 year old is really able to manage the minefield of this other child any more.

    That said, I don’t think EVERY close friendship should be discouraged. That is just ridiculous and harmful for shy or introverted kids. I wasn’t a particularly introverted kid (about equal on introversion and extroversion actually) but was very shy. If I went to summer camp, it would take me a couple days to even talk anyone. If the counselors decided to move me around every time I got comfortable with a person, I would have barely talked to anyone and been miserable all summer.

  87. Interestingly enough (and I’m not sure I agree), I’ve heard that disorders like autism are a sort of form of evolution. It would seem like our society is growing increasingly individualized and that being autistic (and believe me, I don’t know much about it and the different forms”

    Yeah, no…I think evolution generally takes more than 50 years to occur…

    Autism has always been around. The “autism spectrum” has not. It was identified/created/labeled whatever you want to call it relatively recently. Children have exhibited the symptoms on the “autism spectrum” before, they just weren’t classified as “autistic” until relatively recently. They may have been classified as something else or not classified at all; of the unclassified, some went on to lead normal lives without ever being labeled or helped, and some fell through the cracks, not getting the help they needed.

    I know that in our school system today, the autism spectrum is used as a kind of catch-all for a wide variety of learning disorders that are difficult to categorize. (This is different from the clinical definition, which is more narrow; but school systems can label without a pediatrician/neurologist/psychologist diagnosis.) I’m fairly sure that, had the “autism spectrum” existed in my child hood, based on the symptoms listed, I would have fallen on it, had anyone desired to put me on it and get me services. As happens, I did just fine without the label or the services (if one allows some temporal hardship and has some tolerance for diversity of personality in one’s definition of “just fine,”), and I learned to adjust myself and/or my environment. Although I still have a number of the symptoms, I have managed to lead a quite normal life. There is in general, today, it seems, less tolerance for diversity of personality than when I was a kid, and what might have been considered different or eccentric or dreamy or even just plain “shy” in the past is now considered disordered. (Although, who knows, maybe I would be a better more capable person today had I been treated for autism. I don’t know. There’s two possibilities – help and improvement, or being sadled with lower expectations because you have a label, and sinking to those expectations.)

  88. A lot of people have addressed how close friendships have had positive effects on their own lives and the lives of their children. I find another cause for worry in the NYT article, though. Who is actually, you know, teaching these children? Math, science, English, history, remember them? Last time I checked, school was supposed to be a place of learning, and the social benefits were secondary.

    Teachers are trained and hired to plan lessons and assess student progress, not to police whether or not Heather and Jenny ever made up. Social stuff should be up to the parents. If the school sees a legitimate concern, by all means, step in or address it with the parents. But don’t pathologize normal behavior. I notice in the article that it’s schools and camps speaking out against the best friend, not parents.

    If I had a child, I’d be mad as hell if he or she were to come home and tell me that their teacher won’t let them spend time with their friend anymore.

    Whether you have one or two close friends, or a bunch of friends, is largely the function of personality anyway, and also of how well you click with who you’re grouped with. I had one best friend through grade school, was part of a couple of different trios in middle school, part of a core group in high school, and had wildly varying levels of friends through college. In grad school, I went back to the deep friendships as there were only a couple of people I could even stand. It varies for everyone, and no child should be forced into a friendship style that’s not suitable for them. Adults, get a life.

  89. This story seems to be quite popular. LOTS of replies. I want to ask a question though. Why do children seem to “naturally” gravitate towards having a best friend? Is it a survival trait perhaps? Leftover from our ancient history? Is it something natural inside us, are we wired that way?

    Until we know the answers to these questions then we have no right to go changing the way our children make friends, What if we prevent a child from having a best friend and this creates a void? Something that could be even worse that the possible hurt feelings that possibly happen to some hypothetical child.

    Besides that…..if there are no outcast kids with hurt feelings. Who will grow up to be the next great computer geek??

  90. p.s

    Kids KNOW when someone is being nice to the because they are SUPPOSED to be.

  91. Bravo Uly,
    I’ve never read a better explanation of the increase in Autistic Dx. That includes from experts. I’m hoping what has been happening with Autistic Dx will happen with Learning Disabilities Dx. We need to help kids before they start failing. The way the law works in Texas bright to gifted kids who show LD tendencies (example problems with fine motor skills that leads to horrible handwriting and the flipping of letters), don’t get help because they are passing.

    Someday I hope they will get the help they need. Withholding it because they are passing is like saying I’m not going to allow you to wear your glasses until you are failing. We had two students failing every single spelling test last year.

    The other math teacher (her daughter is dyslexic) and I put up a challenge to the ELA teachers. Let them take a spelling test using the writers for 2 weeks and see if they improved. Now writers are little mini word processors, but the spell check is off until you press a button.

    Both these kids are honest but to take temptation away the inclusion aid sat with them as they took the test. The 1st week their grades went from 0 – 20% to 60 – 70%. The 2nd week they both got 100%. They also fessed up that they practiced their spelling by typing it – they were afraid that might be cheating.

    After a few weeks – the ELA teacher who was my partner said – G is doing what you do. I said what thing I do? He was writing a paper (writing test in 4th grade has to be handwritten). He was having trouble spelling a word. He pushed was away the paper. Put his hands on the desk and typed it. He went back wrote a couple of letters, Typed it again, wrote a couple more letters. He did this several times with several words. Since it was a practice test the teacher looked over his shoulder – and he spelled those words correctly.

  92. @Cynthia About adult diagnoses. In my case for an LD 1) There is a reason, I’m not crazy, I’m not stupid, my hand really doesn’t “listen” to what my brain is saying. 2) I have legal standing to ask for and get some reasonable accomendations. My big one is using my laptop at meetings. Not as common now as it used to be, but I’ve been told I CAN NOT use my laptop during inservices.

    Their reasons
    1) You won’t pay attention to me (grow up I am an adult)
    2) This is copyrighted material (how does my taking notes on a computer violate copyright if taking notes by hand is allowed.)

    Now I’ve noticed that the people who object the most are the ones selling snake oil. They don’t want me refuting what they say and citing real scientists (so I do it to be very annoying)

    For kids – so parents can fight for reasonable accommodations if they are at a bad school. So good schools can justify reasonable accommodations during the state tests. (wearing headphones with the cord cut to dampen noise for example)

    For those of you who talk about pulling your kids out. We teachers need you. We need you to be the voice of reason against the helocopter parents.

    Please consider abductions are news because they are rare. These things are news because they are unusual. My school does not go around breaking up friendships. When we put together classes, we look to balance learning types and teachers. We group kids by what they need and groupings in a grade level can and do change during the year.

    For example B wasn’t getting long division – so we switched him temporarily to the other math class, because they had a tutor coming in during math. All my other kids were ready to move on. 2 Days later B is back in my class and has a solid start on division. (We kept having practice with it all year).

    The only “friendships” we break up are the ones that are disrupting class. We had a couple of mean girl alliances in one class last year. These girls are master manipulators, got the race card thing down pat.

    They got split up when we grouped them for 5th grade. A couple of them happen to be brilliant in Math, so we moved them to the cluster group. We also moved around some Positive alpha girls (strong personalities but not into being drama lamas) to counter the Mean Girl alphas. We made sure to move at least one of the Positive alpha girl’s friends into the class also.

    More frequently we break up the kids that argue and pick at each other in class. Also I requested that 2 kids in the same foster home be separated, they just reached their limit with teach other and needed some down time.

    That is the norm so it is NOT news.

  93. “Besides that…..if there are no outcast kids with hurt feelings. Who will grow up to be the next great computer geek??”

    Actually, most really bright computer geeks I’ve known, while introverted, have had friends. I’m a nerdy introvert, as is dh, and having a few close friends was how we made it through school. Our oldest is, so far, pretty similar. He often doesn’t want to do what everyone else is doing, but he’s fine. We’re not worried about it.

    Not everyone wants or needs to surround oneself with a large group of friends. Not everyone feels particularly scarred when he or she isn’t chosen for some types of teams or events. When I was growing up and people called me a nerd, I smiled and said “thank you!”

  94. This inspired me to write a blog that a friend reads – and needs! I couldn’t just forward it to her without offending her, so I wrote my own blog (it’s a little bit long) with a very similar theme. Thanks to NJ Mom and Lenore for the inspiration. http://itsmylife-johnna.blogspot.com/2010/06/raising-confident-independent-children.html

  95. I dunno. I can see some value in friendship coaches, although this is an extreme. My daughter’s middle school is not wealthy or even middle class. About 80% of kids are on free lunch. Yet they have started friendship circles for some kids, which sound like a mellower version of a friendship coach. When I asked the guidance counselor about it, she said they started them because some kids had no idea how to properly interact with peers. Some kids have no friends and are mean or poke fun thinking they are being funny and will gain friends. Meanwhile, the other kids are too young to understand this form of social awkwardness and begin feeling like they are in a hostile environment. The friendship circles teach interaction skills. I have no problem with this kind of friendship coaching.

    Although I understand the comments opposing the idea that “everyone is your friend,” I do think schools should be telling kids that everyone is worthy of respect and needs to be listened to. When you are an adult, you will need to interact with people very different from yourself, and the work environment is better for all involved if you can do that respectfully.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that although this example may be taking things too far, that doesn’t mean that kids should be left alone to figure things out on their own on the playground or in the school hallways. Guidance is often needed, especially in the middle school years.

  96. Susan2, thanks for your rational comments. I agree that helping kids navigate socially is an important responsibility of teachers and parents.

  97. Well, one good thing came out of this. It motivated me to call my bestfriend.

    This would be the bestfriend I wouldn’t hesitate to give a kidney to, or take a bullet for, for whom I drove 20hrs just to be with when he went through a tough time.
    He is the one I ring when things go wrong (and my partner, as lovely as he is, just wouldn’t understand whatever problem of the day is).
    The one I have rung at 3am in the morning lost – whilst in a state he had never been to and I had been living in for a week.

    I couldn’t imagine denying anyone the opportunity to grow that sort of reliable relationship.

    If you just have a wider group of not-so-close friends who do you call when things go so dreadfully wrong?

    I tried calling others (ie, ones in my state!) and not one of them responded as helpfully as my bestie.

  98. I have a few different things to say, and they aren’t all related, so… yeah.

    1. SKL, well, that is a pleasant surprise! I know we often disagree (heck, I disagree with most of that comment), but I’ll tell you that if I thought we’d have anything in common… actually, that would’ve been it : )

    Although in my case it was more a case of “I grew up, independently found out about AS, sought a diagnosis, found out my mother had tried to get me diagnosed as a child, and then realized that at least one of my grandparents is DEFINITELY autistic, and the other two (never met my dad’s dad) as well as both my parents have some serious autistic traits.” So I actually did this story backwards, I guess.

    2. As for getting a diagnosis, the key thing is accommodations.

    I know, a lot of people don’t like all these laws. I’m not a fan either… but I think it’s better than the alternative.

    In an ideal world, I could go to my teacher and say “Look, I have trouble with my handwriting, I need to take notes on a laptop”. In an ideal world, I could go to my boss and say “The only trouble I have with this job is that sometimes it’s hard for me to comprehend what I hear, I need important things written or emailed instead of being told to me over the phone”. In an ideal world, I could say “I have trouble concentrating, but if I fidget a little with this koosh ball I’ll be fine”. In an ideal world, none of this would be a problem.

    We’re not in an ideal world. (Heck, in an ideal world, ice cream would be free and it’d be good for you!) We’re in THIS world, and in THIS world there’s always people who act like the tiniest thing is Just Such A BIG Deal for them. It doesn’t seem important to THEM, so therefore it can’t be important to YOU, and even if it doesn’t affect them in the slightest they’re SO PUT-UPON by being asked to deal with it!

    This is stupid, stupid, stupid, but there it is. Having an official diagnosis gives you legal protection. If you can do your job with only one or two minor accommodations (we’re not talking about firefighters in wheelchairs here), you should be able to do that with no problem. Indeed, that’s what the law says.

    And this is why many adults seek diagnoses. They’re fed up with trying to get their few, simple needs met in the polite way, now they want something to make it seem “real” to the doubters. They’re not just useful in a school setting.

    2. Another reason people go to get diagnosed is actually the same reason pentamom mentioned – labels. I’m glad her son is so happy and successful : )

    Not everybody is so lucky. For many children, having an official label saves them from gathering up a lot of unofficial labels, from students and teachers alike: “Stupid”,”Weird”, “Troublemaker”, “Freak”, “Easy Target”, “Rude”, “Klutz”. I can go on. All these are labels just as lasting as “Asperger’s”, but there’s no benefit to them. At least with the right label you can get help.

    3. With respect to what SKL said, AS can be (usually is, I believe) much more than just “social awkwardness”. There are a whole lot of things which are very common among aspies, even if they aren’t, strictly speaking, part of the label. A short list includes: Sensory issues where stimuli that don’t bother others can be painful to you; inability to recognize other people; inability to recognize familiar places (I have this, it’s not fun); trouble with general spatial awareness; klutziness; trouble with fine motor skills (handwriting, tying shoes, that sort of thing is affected by this); trouble comprehending what you hear (Auditory Processing Disorder); trouble with emotional regulation (something many autistics see as central)… oh, there are other things, but I’m trying to stick with things that affect me more.

    Of course, social issues are a big enough problem on their own! Social issues can cause you to lose your job – don’t do enough chit-chat or the right kind of chit-chat and they’ll decide you’re not a “team player”. They can get you arrested – make the wrong kind of eye contact, pace or flap or rock, and the cops may decide you’re lying or threatening. They can keep you from getting a job, of course. Having an explanation for this, a piece of paper you can pull out saying that you’re not intentionally trying to weird people out, that can be a big help. (Especially with the cops.)

    4. With that said, I understand the “normal spectrum” comment. And in fact, this has come up often enough in the comm I moderate (I’m not THAT active in the autistic community, but it’s come up elsewhere as well).

    I actually agree with the reason behind the comment… but as usual with me and SKL, I run with it in another direction. I’ll gladly say I’m autistic – but I’ll also be the first to say there’s nothing wrong with me. (Except perhaps with my ankles, which twist more often than is reasonable. But those are just my ankles.) My brain works the way it’s supposed to work. It’s just that I happen to live in a world where most people’s brains work in another way.

    I’m also left-handed. Sure, there’s a handedness spectrum (and I’m far, far on the left-handed side of it), but it’s not useful in practical terms.

    I’m “probably straight”. (Don’t ask why the probably, it’s not important.) There’s DEFINITELY a scale of sexuality, with some people more on one side than another, but it’s useful to have terms there.

    I can call myself autistic without saying there’s something wrong with me. Some parts of who I am, which are probably because of being aspie, are annoying and cause real problems for me. Others, not so much. But it’s the same for everybody.

    Now, there’s always SOMEone, so I’ll clear this up now: Just because I say there’s nothing wrong with how my mind works, just because I’ll occasionally throw around terms like neurodiversity, that does NOT mean I think your non-verbal child should “get no help” or whatever it is you think. Nobody thinks that. I think it’s important for all people to be able to communicate (although I don’t think it should matter if they do that through speech or through an assistive device). I think it’s important for people not to injure themselves. I think it’s important for children to learn how to function in society, and so on. However, I don’t think that this can be accomplished by making them non-autistic. I’m not interested in discussing it here, I only said it to forestall the “She wants our kids not to learn anything!” that sometimes comes up out of nowhere.

    So, you know, I think autistic people should be accepted for being who they are (as should people of different religious faiths, or races, or languages, or whatever other way of dividing people you can think of), but I don’t think it’d necessarily be good or useful to stop defining them as a group.

    5. (I think it’s 5, anyway.) I forgot one last thing in my list of Why Diagnoses Have Increased, and that’s reporting. Prior to the famed increase, reporting of autism was often non-required and spotty. Now it’s more consistent. Again, this alone would increase the number of diagnoses counted.

  99. Thanks Uly

    What I find frustrating is that often accommodating people is just a matter of putting yourself in their shoes and using common sense.

    Many times accommodating a particular group makes things more usable for everyone. Websites that are friendly to screen readers tend to be easier for everyone to use. Cars parked on the sidewalk such that they block wheelchairs also block strollers, kids on bikes, and elderly with walkers.

  100. Rich Wilson:The phrase you’re looking for is “universal design.” Standards-aware Web developers like to say that the most important Web user (Google’s indexing engine) is blind.

    It seems to me that there are several logical fallacies underlying this sort of misguided egalitarianism regarding friendships, and I think a lot of them are “category mistakes.” Something that’s highly desirable on a societal level, e.g. that society as a whole should not “play favorites” with people, can make no sense or even be destructive if you try to apply it at the purely personal level. I’ve long said that one of the main characteristics of a bigot is that he wants to live in a world populated only by people he’s personally invited into it and one of the main characteristics of a busybody is that he wants to make the same rules for his neighbors as he can for his houseguests. Both of these involve failure to distinguish what’s appropriate in a private, personal context from what’s appropriate in a public, societal context. Recognizing such distinctions has been an important part of the law; for example, most fair-housing laws impose much more stringent restrictions on commercial landlords than they do on people seeking roommates.

    There’s also a tendency to confuse social skills, which are important, with adolescent popularity, which isn’t, and with glibness/extroversion. Remember that the two most important social skills are being a good listener and knowing when to keep your mouth shut; the quiet introvert often has better social skills than the bubbly extrovert who can do nothing but talk about him/herself.

    The Book Title From Hell just occurred to me: Gilderoy Lockhart’s Guide to Friendships. I think that really sums up the approach described in the article.

  101. @Sky re Caroline’s comment: Yes that’s what the schools are doing, at least where I live. The teacher refers to all the children in the class as “friends”. It’s been bugging me for the last five years. I’ve had to actually sit my kids down and explain the difference between “classmate” and “friend” but withou the support of the school I don’t know if they’ve really grasped it. Mind you, these are the same schools that are going along with all of the current newspeak rules. We had a big discussion a couple of years ago about the word “stupid”, wherein I taught my son that there are no bad words, just mean uses for them, but that he should still follow the rule when he’s at school.

  102. Gail, I can often be heard telling my kids “you’d better not do that at school because ___.” Even at 3, they understand that Mom prioritizes things one way, teachers another. Like the mom of that boy whose toy soldier hat was rejected, I think it’s important for kids to try to toe the line at school (and then come home and laugh the stupid out of their systems if necessary). Though if they were being punished for or required to do something I consider really ridiculous, I might confront the teacher / administrator out of my kids’ hearing.

  103. @Uly — “Another reason people go to get diagnosed is actually the same reason pentamom mentioned – labels. I’m glad her son is so happy and successful : )

    Not everybody is so lucky.”

    I totally understand. I was trying to make clear that it was what I judged best in *our* situation, for *our* son, and it was working *for us.* I didn’t at all mean that this was the route everyone should take. If I wasn’t clear about that before, let me affirm it now. 🙂

  104. Oh, and just to further avoid misinterpretation, that’s not because we’re better, special, or anything — I’m just saying that labeling might be desirable in some situations, and better to avoid in others, and I thought ours was a “better to avoid.”

  105. #Autism – Very interesting TED talk about learning disorders http://www.ted.com/talks/aditi_shankardass_a_second_opinion_on_learning_disorders.html

  106. Something occurs to me upon reading the linked article, notably: WHAT THE H#LL?
    I was homeschooled, but between grades 1–8 I took part in classes at a certain ‘Homeschool Support Center’. I…. didn’t get along with the other kids very well. I pretty much ended up having one friend (total) at any time, if any. I hung around the computer lab a lot to make up for it.
    I honestly don’t know what would have happened if such a friendship had been broken up, in the manner the article describes (making friends with everyone :rolleyes:). I doubt it would have helped my development, however.
    (Incidentally, much later, my parents figured out that I had a mild case of Asperger’s. I only got the hang of being social quite a while after that.)

    Still…. breaking up friendships sounds like a REALLY BAD IDEA. The article mentioned breaking up popularity intrigues masquerading in the guise of friendships; not a bad idea, but the full scope of what’s described is throwing the baby out with the dishwater.

    One more thing: The more I think about it, the more what was mentioned in the article just goes against common sense.

  107. i’m a teenager, and i am the kind of person that can’t open up to dozens of people. I have three good friends that i am really close to. I have other friends too,but they accept that i’m closer to other people then i am to them, as I accept that they are closer to other people then they are to me. We don’t start ‘importance battles’ or anything and we never have. I’m just not a social butterfly like other people are. Nobody gets exclusive and for the most part we all get along.(except for that stupid drama a few people get into a lot)

  108. This is also ignoring the fact that many people (adults and children) don’t like hanging out in large groups and prefer intimate, small groups of friends. There is nothing wrong with this, it doesnt make you less sociable or more socially crippled, it is just a personal preference. I’m not saying its okay to let pairs of kids totally isolate themselves from the rest of the class. Teamwork and peer comraderie need to be encouraged, but only to a small extent.
    To this day, I STILL don’t mesh well with large groups, and thats just fine because I have tons of friends who I like to hang out with one on one, or as a threesome.

  109. I’ve had my BFF since 2nd grade. That NY Times article can suck it.

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