Can best friends hurt our kids?

The New York Times recently had an interesting¬†article describing a movement in schools to discourage the development of best-friendships while encouraging more group friendship interactions. This seems to be a somewhat widespread response to incidents of school bullying. According to the article, the “logic” behind this thinking is that best-friend pairs often exhibit exclusionary behavior, while groups tend to be more inclusive. To this I have to say: WHAT?!

The child development research on peer interaction does not support this thinking. Research on peer relationships in childhood indicates the importance of childrens’ developing attachment to friends. It’s a natural progression from the attachment to parents. I worry about the potentially harmful effect on kids if they never learn how to develop close relationships with best-friends. The relationship with a best friend is often thought to be a training ground for skills later used in intimate partner relationships. What happens to future romantic relationships if kids are barred from developing best-friendships?

Obviously bullying is a serious problem that needs to be addressed in a thoughtful manner (preadolescent social skills training? early empathy development excercises?). Reactionary behavior on the part of school officials is disapointing and I think, potentially harmful to kids. I think as a society, the new generation of parents needs to really think about whether its beneficial to micromanage every area of our kids development. Sometimes it’s okay to let kids be kids and do what comes naturally to them.