Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good grief!

Adults can really screw up kids' lives. Why is it that the reaction to a perceived problem is so often at the idiotic extreme? A kid is sent home from school because he pointed a finger and said "bang!" Schools and cities try to make playgrounds so safe that all fun [part of which is risk] is eliminated. Teachers insist on games that no one can lose because losing makes the loser sad. And now, apparently because of fear that someone might feel left out, an undoubtedly futile — but inevitably damaging and hurtful in itself — effort to eliminate "best" friends. "The End of the Best Friend":
...[F]rom Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, the childhood “best friend” has long been romanticized in literature and pop culture — not to mention in the sentimental memories of countless adults.

But increasingly, some educators and other professionals who work with children are asking a question that might surprise their parents: Should a child really have a best friend?

Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago.... [more]
More, 6/23, Jonah Goldberg at NRO:
As a result of this thinking, best friends are broken up. Buddies are put on separate teams, assigned to different classes, etc. It’s not quite the sort of thing cult leaders and North Korean prison guards do, but in principle it’s not too far off either.

The response from across the ideological spectrum on the Web has mostly been outrage and disgust. Among the objections: Why ban successful, positive relationships in an effort to wean out negative ones? Why value the superficial over the meaningful? Why lie to kids that they can be friends with everyone? What about the damage to shy and introverted kids who particularly benefit from having a kindred spirit?

All good points, but it is a bizarre symptom of our hyper-rationalist age that people are forced to articulate why best friends are valuable to kids. For the record, I think removing best friends from childhood is a barbarous and inhumane act, akin to amputating a limb from an athlete. You can still have a childhood without a best friend, just as you can still be an athlete without a leg. But why would you voluntarily make someone’s life so much harder? Having someone with whom you can share the joys and discoveries of early life is a gateway into not just adulthood, but humanity.

The most offensive part of this whole enterprise is that it is aimed at making life easier for administrators, not better for kids. The social life of childhood is frustrating and unwieldy for educators, so they respond by making childhood less complicated.
The End of the Best Friend - NYTimes.com, The Latest Thievery: Best Friends - Jonah Goldberg - National Review Online