In one corner, we have administrators. They claim the best friend paradigm smacks of exclusivity and cliques, which could lead to bullying.
In recent years Timber Lake Camp, a co-ed sleep-away camp in Phoenicia, N.Y., has started employing "friendship coaches" to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else... "I don't think it's particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend," said Jay Jacobs, the camp's director. "If something goes awry, it can be devastating."
If something goes awry, it can be devastating.
I guess these parents and educators should tell kids to forget about college or a career, because if something goes awry, it can be devastating. Best to stick to minimum-wage jobs. By the same token, these parents should discourage marriage and encourage communes, like the ones that sprang up in the 1960s. After all, a marriage focuses on just one person. How unfair.
But I doubt parents will. Instead, they'll want their kids to grow up then do a 180. After years of hanging out in groups, hooking up (known as one-night stands, back in the day) and enjoying friends with benefits, in adulthood these kids will have to switch to exclusivity and monogamy.
By this fail-safe standard, one should not attempt any feat. Baking pastries, for instance, can end in disaster.
What gave people the idea that a group of eight or 10 kids solves the problem? According to their own logic, cliques are as bad as best friends. What about the 30 acquaintances who didn't get invited to the trampoline-jumping party in the back yard? What about groups that lack any diversity whatsoever? The blond gaggle of girls in The New York Times article looked so similar they could have been sisters.
As far back as I can remember, I had a best friend. Her name was Margaret Tarpley. She had freckles. She had four brothers. She lived two doors down. The first time I spent the night, I accidentally brushed my teeth with her father's shaving cream, which was in a tube. To show solidarity, Margaret did the same thing, and we both made faces and laughed for hours.
Margaret's father was a lawyer. He had a wonderful machine that could record our voices. He might as well have made a recording of himself saying: "You girls settle down!" and "You girls go to sleep!" because he had to say it so many times before he gave up and went to bed himself.
Margaret had a very sweet mom, who died of cancer. At the funeral my parents would not let me see the body. The new housekeeper was the first African-American person I ever met. Her name was Edna.
When I was 9 years old, my father announced we were all moving to Houston.
I burst into tears. "What about Margaret?" I said.
My father, ever the inelegant boor, replied, "Aw, you'll forget about her."
Forget Margaret? Impossible.
Two years later we moved back to Dallas, but the house we rented was in a different neighborhood. We went back to visit our old street. Nothing and nobody was the same, except for Edna. "There's my Donna girl," she said, as she folded me in her arms.
Today I wouldn't trade those memories for the world.
Instead of training kids to shrink from every risk, why not instead teach them life is full of both disappointments and rewards, and prepare them for both?
A reason to hope: The commenters on the New York Times article could not have been more disgusted with the advocates of this policy. Go jump in the lake, the overwhelming majority said. At least, that was the printable version.
All the comments are juicy, so here's one chosen at random: "If my child's school decided they needed to micro-manage my daughter's friendships in this way, we would be gone the next day. Seriously, this country is doomed if we cannot get our education system back on track and focused on education, not on this empty feel-good pablum."
If we're going to outlaw best friends, what's next? Chocolate? Might as well outlaw life. It always ends badly, you know.
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