My friend Robin was interviewed for a NY Times article on childhood friendships (which I'm trying to figure out how to link to . . . just get to it from her blog at http://www.alittlegreenereveryday.com/). First of all, yay for Robin! But secondly, I'm not sure what to make of this article.
The writer is talking about how kids are often discouraged at schools these days from having "best friends". School personnel are concerned about exclusivity and cliques and bullying, and so they keep a close eye on relationships that seem to be too close and intentionally separate the kids.
They say they do it to encourage healthy social interactions. And I can see some validity to that. I had one best friend in late elementary school and no one else really who would hang out with me. On the extremely rare days when we were fighting, the loneliness and isolation were devastating. It is important to have friendships across the board.
But discouraging close friendships is a big mistake. As one psychologist in the article stated, "Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? . . . Imagine the implications for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones." Exactly.
These social issues in schools are one of the rallying cries for many homeschoolers. When people express concern that homeschooled children won't have the socialization they need apart from school, the parents counter that they've seen the kids in school and don't want their kids socialized that way. That's a bit harsh, but they have a point.
For my part, I will say that there are advantages and disadvantages to each setting. With my girls' homeschool friends, we parents are more aware of what's going on in their relationships and have more control over how much time they spend with who, and where, and doing what. I am friends with the mothers, with whom I share common values, and we can discuss problems that come up and help guide the kids to work them out more effectively. Overall, it's been a good thing.
On the other hand, my girls were sheltered from some of the real ugliness in people out there, and that can have the same consequence as being sheltered too much from germs -- you need a little bit of exposure to build up internal protections from what could destroy you. Although they got a good amount of that exposure in church, frankly. As they say, a church isn't a museum for saints; it's a hospital for sinners. At least that exposure was more on the level of a brief innoculation rather than an extended saturation.
Anyway, I guess, in response to the article, I would say that schools do need to keep an eye on relationships that are getting unhealthy in their attachment and exclusivity and work with parents on that. The problem, I think, is when schools have to make blanket, "dummy-proof" policies about such things and there are personnel who are not sensitive and discriminating in applying the policy to children's lives. This is an art requiring tremendous wisdom and insight, not a science requiring one-size-fits-all process and procedures.