Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.


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February 24th, 2011

The Virtues of a BFF


bffWhen I was a ‘tween and teenager, I had two best friends. The three of us were our own little clique — inseparable and bonded in a sisterly way. Having two best friends instead of one caused some problems, sure, because there was often a tension between who was closest to whom, but generally, it worked. We were the Three Muskateers. We were Heuy, Dewey and Louie. We sat in the same place in the hallway of our middle- and high-school, we helped each other with homework, we had sleepovers and weekend adventures our albums are now filled with photos from confirmations to graduations to weddings.

As an adult, however, I’m blessed to have expanded that friendship circle to at least six women (not to mention a husband) with whom I confide my deepest, darkest secrets and joys. Which is better? A New York Times article on whether the “best friend” is something to be discouraged among children grabbed my attention.

While kids want a best friend, their helicopter parents and well-meaning educators are concerned that socializing as a pack might provide more emotional support, especially when emotions run high. Writes Hilary Stout

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.”

I disagree. Forming a strong bond with one or two friends is an instructive experience for children. It teaches them how to share personal elements of their lives, how to trust and what it feels like when that trust is betrayed. It teaches kids the basics of committed relationships, of consequences and honesty. Sure, parents might worry about whether a friend is a “good influence” or not – and research on the contagiousness of behavior supports that this, indeed, is a valid concern – but to try to re-engineer our children’s friendships is not only taking adult supervision of childhood a step too far, it also might undermine the ability of a generation to have deep bonding with another person as adults.

And I’ve got two best friends who will back me up on this, I bet.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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  • Julie

    Thank you so much for your opinion on this and for writing about it. My daughter is in Kindergarten and has made a BFF and has those few friends she likes best and I was recently informed by the teacher that this “clicking” is a form of bullying and that I need to teach my daughter to be friends with everyone and include everyone! I disagreed and sounds like you might too. How can she be friends with everyone and when your on the playground everyone can not ride the 3 swings or go on the teeter toter (sp??) and I am NOT inviting all the kids to her bday party either!!! I will be sharing your article with her teacher!! Grateful~Julie

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