Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

No More Best Friends?

by Vicki ThornDo you remember having a best friend – or two or three – as a kid? The secrets you shared? The trust you had in each other? The adventures you engaged in that perhaps no one else in the world knew about? Do you have a best friend now?Early on, Scripture says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So let me pose another question: What happens when we intentionally stifle the basic human urge to connect with others?Today, some educators and other professionals are questioning whether children should have a best friend. “I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis, in a New York Times article last month. “As adults – teachers and counselors – we try to encourage them not to do that.”“We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive of friends,” she continued. “Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend. … We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”The article later describes a summer camp that has “friendship coaches to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else.” If two campers seem “too focused” on each other, the camp strives to separate them.What sort of a society are we building when we intentionally break down intimate relationships? The camp director explains, “I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend.”He explained, “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.”Yet how in the world will our children ever learn to recover from life’s inevitable disappointments and hurts if they aren’t allowed the opportunity to experience them?Today’s society makes it easy to move further away from real friendships on many counts. Facebook allows us to accumulate friends like gum wrappers for a paper chain in the old days. We watch the intimate snatches of their lives and believe that somehow this is developing a relationship. Teens say they prefer to text instead of speaking to friends on their cell phones. More distance from humanity.It has become increasingly difficult for children to make friends as it is. Life is a series of acquaintanceships that are dependent on so many things out of the control of the children. Our hectic schedules often keep kids from getting to know the neighbor kids, and when they do interact with other children, it’s often only through day care or meticulously arranged and supervised play dates.Joint custody can also impose a burden on friendship making and keeping. A little boy shared his feelings on the matter with Judith Wallerstein in her book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce:… There are some kids I play with when I’m at my dad’s but I only see them when I’m there. And a lot of the time they don’t remember that I’m going to be there and they’ve made plans to play with someone else. So I don’t have anyone to play with when I’m there. And when I’m at my mom’s the kids have made plans I don’t know about. Sometimes you feel like a rubber band.Finally, with family size shrinking, the built-in friendships that come from having siblings and many cousins may become a thing of the past, as Time magazine’s recent article, “The Only Child Myth” predicts.How sad that many children today are missing out on the joys of friendship – especially now that experts are learning how close friendships in childhood are the proving grounds for much learning. Through friendship, one learns about empathy and how to read body language. One learns about intimacy and disappointment. One learns about true friends, fair weather friends and untrustworthy friends. One experiences the joy of life and being young, and laughter!I believe these friendships prepare us for adulthood. They prepare us to be best friends with our future spouse. They help us learn to assess relationships, a valuable skill throughout our lives.Research indicates that friendship is good for our health. It reduces stress, and for women especially, the hormones produced when sharing in close bonds with friends can lower blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol; help wounds heal and reduce sensitivity to pain as well as enhance immune systems.Just last week, researchers from Brigham Young University released their findings on the health benefits of friendship. According to the study, people with strong social relationships are 50 percent less likely to die early than those without similar friendships – life without social relationships, said the psychologist who led the study, is “equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”Newborns that fail to bond properly may develop failure to thrive syndrome, resulting in poor health or even death, not to mention a negative impact on their ability to form relationships as adults. We likewise know that the mental and social activity that comes from friendships can help elderly individuals resist the slide toward dementia.(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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