best friends
© Getty
I hope those smiles aren't exclusive between the two of you. Please distribute those smiles equally among the class.
There's a scourge plaguing the children of today; an outdated, outmoded concept that continues to interfere with the freedom our children need and deserve. That scourge is best friends. Having a best friend is a terror upon childhood, and it needs to be stopped.

Or so says Dr. Barbara Greenberg , PhD, child and adolescent psychologist, in an op-ed piece for U.S. News. Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration. What Dr. Greenberg actually says is that there's "merit to the movement to ban having best friends," and goes on to argue for that "merit". Apparently this is a thing, with Greenberg citing best-friend-banning as being an "emerging trend among European schools, and now some American schools as well." She doesn't give any reference for this, so I guess we'll just have to take her word for it (OK, I looked it up. It's a thing).

When I first encountered the headline of the piece, "Should Schools Ban Kids From Having Best Friends?", my first thought was, 'No, of course not. What a silly idea'. And reading the piece in its entirety didn't do anything to change my mind. The argument can be boiled down to 'because feelings', and outright ignores the importance of friendship and particularly best friends.

From U.S. News:
Certainly in life we all benefit from having close friends and confidantes - those who really get us. On the other hand, there is something dreadfully exclusionary occurring when a middle schooler tells the girl sitting next to her that she is best friends with the girl sitting in front of them. Of course, this scenario plays out in a variety of ways, but child after child comes to my therapy office distressed when their best friend has now given someone else this coveted title.
So essentially, anything that distresses a child needs to be banned. And if this means we need to sacrifice "having close friends and confidantes - those who really get us," then that's just the price we'll have to pay. No, you can't have a close personal relationship with this person, because it might offend this other person. Instead you get more shallow friendships with lots of other people. See, more is better.

It would probably do this psychologist, and others of her ilk, some good to look into human bonding and the biological basis for it (although, by her "social inclusion" slant and SJW need to eradicate every semblance of hurt feelings, I'm willing to bet our dear psychologist probably hangs out in circles who have no issue with denying biological reality).

The piece goes on:
Many of you will suggest that our kids should toughen up and will become hardier if they learn to deal with the natural shifts in friendships that are inevitable. Perhaps, there is some truth to that. However, I am concerned about the bigger picture, which includes the pain associated with exclusion and the gentle comfort associated with inclusion.
First of all, that's not the "bigger picture". Subjective, momentary pain that is an inextricable part of growing up is not a "bigger picture" to learning valuable lessons that are going to help kids to navigate life. It's a smaller picture. So the author is actually interested in the smaller picture, which is about avoiding psychological pain in the short term, damn the consequences.

Secondly, while the author brings up and dismisses the idea that kids should toughen up and become hardier, it's a straw man argument. Any move against protecting a kid from psychological pain doesn't have to be associated with a cold, hard, unfeeling parenting style caricatured in the tough 1950s' dad. It's not about making kids "toughen up," it's about them developing resilience, learning that every little hurt isn't the end of the world, learning how to deal with uncomfortable emotions. It's not about denying feelings. We can't protect kids from all suffering because suffering is part of life, in fact, suffering is the source of some of the most important lessons a human being can learn.

And, ironically, trying to protect kids from "emotional distress" is going to end up hurting them a lot more than if you'd backed off and let them learn their lessons. Imagine these kids growing up and losing a job or a spouse - they're not going to be able to deal with that if they've never experienced an emotional loss and learned to recover from it. Given the protective bubble they're growing up in, they probably wouldn't be able to handle losing their keys.

To continue:
I am a huge fan of social inclusion.
Not a surprise.
The phrase best friend is inherently exclusionary. Among children and even teens, best friends shift rapidly. These shifts lead to emotional distress and would be significantly less likely if our kids spoke of close or even good friends rather than best friends. And, if kids have best friends, does that also imply that they have "worst friends?"
Of course it implies worst friends! Although I doubt anyone has every used that term. It's called having an efficient system of valuation. Just as kids have favourite toys, TV shows and foods, they're going to have preferred acquaintances. Some people you click with, some you don't. If one kid is essentially an asshole, it isn't going to help anyone by forcing kids to hang out with him or her. The kids forced to share his or her company will be miserable, or in extreme cases, maybe even traumatized, while the asshole isn't going to learn to correct his or her behaviour if all possibility of negative reinforcement is taken away. While kids can be cruel and sometimes single other kids out to hate on for no good reason, sometimes there are very good reasons why certain kids get relegated to the corner of the playground. Both situations provide learning opportunities.
A focus on having best friends certainly indicates there's an unspoken ranking system; and where there is a ranking system, there are problems.
This is the most problematic part of the whole story and basically identifies what this 'psychologist' is all about. Greenberg has a problem with ranking systems. Ranking systems are the heart of ensuring higher quality of life. They're built into human psychology at the fundamental level. Our primitive ancestors wouldn't have survived long enough to produce offspring if they weren't able to tell the difference between good and bad. 'This berry tastes really good with roasted mammoth, but this one makes me puke my guts out. But, in the interest of inclusion, and since ranking systems are inherently problematic, I'm going to eat both berries and feed them to my family.'

All things being equal, people are naturally going to choose a restaurant that is rated higher than another, choose a movie rated higher than others or hire a plumber rated higher than another. The alternative has been tried - it's called communism. Didn't work out so well what with the 60 million dead and all.

A well-functioning ranking system is essentially a marker for intelligence. And ranking one friend as better, (or even best) is recognizing the values embodied in that particular friend. The power to freely associate with those we deem better, or best, is also one of the only weapons we have against allowing pathologicals into our lives. But essentially, we aren't allowed to avoid broken or pathological individuals because "social inclusion". Sounds like a lot more potential for "emotional distress" if you ask me.
I see kids who are never labeled best friends, and sadly, they sit alone at lunch tables and often in their homes while others are with their best friends.
Yep, life isn't fair. But trying to impose some sort of buffer to life's unfairness is going to lead to a lower quality of life, not less unfairness. What comes across here is that this is really more about the author's feelings than the feelings of the children she's professing to want to help. 'I see sad kids and that makes me sad. I shouldn't have to be sad, so let's end my sadness by pretending to care about the sadness of children! Who's with me?'
My hope is that if we encourage our kids to broaden their social circles, they will be more inclusive and less judgmental. The word "best" encourages judgment and promotes exclusion.
This ignores something that may reveal more about the author than the status of best friends. Greenberg seems to be more concerned with the moniker "best friend" than the actual thing itself. The reason someone has a best friend is because they've bonded on a deep level. If you don't like the word, then maybe you could opt for changing it. But trying to micromanage friendships ignores the fact that its actually important to form those close bonded relationships which happen at a deep biological level. Stepping in and stopping two people from forming that bond in favour of more numerous shallow relationships fails to grasp the reason for the existence of best friends. Given this shallow take, it seems safe to assume that this psychologist hasn't experienced a best friend herself. There isn't really any other way to explain how she's willing to so blithely throw the idea away.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson tweeted the article and the resulting tweetstorm had some insightful comments.






As was pointed out by one tweeter, it's ironic that the author's handle is "parentteendr" which is a simple anagram (almost) for "parent ender".

Look, it isn't easy raising kids and I can see why there's a tendency to want to protect your child from the slings and arrows of life. But really, this speaks to a lack of resiliency in the parents, teachers and school boards who can't bear to see a child experiencing emotional distress. Maybe if these "adults" were able to deal with their own emotional discomforts they'd be comfortable enough in their own skins to realize that pain and suffering is an inseparable part of life. It's a twisting of the empathetic response to seeing distress in another. Parents would do well, instead of trying to remove pain entirely from their children's lives, to teach them ways to bear it, and the best way to teach a child is by example.