By Ryan Lau | USA
If each of us was to look back upon our years in primary school, some things that may come to mind include gaining a little more independence from parents or guardians, learning to read and write, and meeting new friends, some of whom we may still be acquainted with. All absolute necessities in our modernized society, it is hard to argue that any of these aspects of elementary education should be drastically altered, but that hasn’t stopped some British schools in the last several years. A number of institutions, including British private school Thomas’s Battersea, where Prince George currently attends, have implemented a total ban on the concept of students having a best friend. Yes, you read that correctly. Essentially, these schools are robbing impressionable young minds of the chance to foster healthy relationship skills in order to prepare them for the real world, while failing to accomplish their alleged goal.
To fully recognize the dangers of this policy, it is first of all important to understand the well-intentioned motives behind it. Child and family psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg recently wrote an opinion piece on the matter. In it, she declared, “The phrase best fried is inherently exclusionary. Best friends shift rapidly. These shifts lead to emotional distress and would be significantly less likely if kids spoke of close or even good friends”. There is simply no way to defend this. Naturally, human beings are exclusionary creatures, which Greenberg will readily admit, given her position. Yet, she draws the exact opposite conclusion than is logical. In many situations, a student may only feel comfortable around one friend. Perhaps that student has been ostracized by the others, or perhaps he simply does not find the other students to be desirable options for a friend. Why on earth would attempting to put a damper on that student’s sole friendship be of any benefit? It simply would make antisocial individuals less social, as they would be receiving negative messages about becoming too close to any particular person.
While leaving these detrimental effects on certain individuals who struggle to make friends, the implementation of such a policy will not help anyone, because the changing in language is entirely ineffective in denoting the true feeling behind a connection or relationship between two friends. If two best friends in grade school are forbidden from calling themselves best friends, it may jeopardize their closeness, as children of that age are incredibly susceptible to believe every word spoken by an authority figure. Yet, even if the school’s policy does convince them to change their terminology, this does absolutely nothing to change the underlying friendship. Though Greenberg claims that rejection of the term best friend will result in inclusion, removal of a simple word does absolutely nothing to prevent the same two people, now called close instead of best friends, from forming a deep bond and not wishing for others to join that bond (this is not a bad thing, as will be explained). Just as the acceptance of various politically correct terms for minorities and disabled people have done absolutely nothing to fight the legitimate issues that these people face, changing the name around a friendship will do absolutely nothing to fight an allegedly poor behavioral pattern.
Furthermore, the alluded to exclusionary tendencies of the term “best friend” are actually quite beneficial for children. As I have previously stated, we are all naturally exclusionary. It is neither unfair nor wrong that we like certain individuals considerably more than others. Drawing a parallel, it most closely resembles the prospect of selecting a spouse. It is no simple task, one that requires full certainty and trust in one singular individual, but where does this trust come from? Ultimately, it originates from the skills learned in grade school when deciding which person, if any, that a child considers to be his or her best friend. When selecting a spouse, one does not have a number of close girlfriends or close boyfriends that are to be decided between. (If so, that is an entirely separate issue, and I pray it does not need a lengthy explanation, but in the days where Greenberg’s proposal sees even marginal public support, I fear it one day may). The individual has one committed relationship which eventually turns into a marriage, due to the fact that he or she has excluded all other men and women from this category. Thus, the inherent categorization and exclusion by human beings is in no way a purely negative attribute.
Yet, after reading this, many will argue that a best friendship is unlike a marriage, as it does not have to be exclusionary for it to be successful. Though this is true, common knowledge dictates that the greater number of people within a circle of close friends, the lesser the focus on each individual, and in many scenarios, that is exactly what a child needs. The benefits of having a best friend have been documented time and time again, and simply put, Greenberg and others sharing her opinion have no tangible data backing any successes of an environment without best friends.
Moreover, Greenberg’s incompetency does not stop at the simple point of not having data. In fact, she shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the very concept of the term best friend. In her piece, which can be found here, she suggests that “If kids have best friends, does that also imply that they have ‘worst friends’?”. Clearly, Greenberg does not have a solid grasp on the concept of a friendship hierarchy. Going back to the example of a wedding, the best friend of the bride and groom will likely become best man and maid of honor. Good friends will become groomsmen and bridesmaids. Most friends will simply be invited to the event, but without any special classification. If someone is liked less than the regular friends, they are simply not invited. They are not given a special invitation or title denoting their inadequacy, as doing so is entirely unnecessary and frankly rather cruel. A friendship hierarchy works much in the same way, with classifications for a best friend, close friends, and any other categories that an individual chooses to implement. People do not have “worst friends”. That’s simply called someone who isn’t close or isn’t a friend at all. We cannot possibly expect to like each individual we meet to the point where we consider them friends, but abandoning this hierarchy would suggest that to be a possibility.
Indubitably, these schools are stepping well beyond a reasonable line of control. By literally deciding for the students who they should befriend, and what level of connection that they should have with these people, they are implementing an advanced form of thought control and restricting the individuality of these budding young minds. In doing so, children are being taught that preferences are wrong, that everyone must be treated identically, and that it is unfair to have a special connection with someone. None of these are remotely good scenarios, and it must be halted with a great sense of promptness. The success of impressionable children is at stake. Bring back the best friend, bring back closeness, bring back healthy relationships. It is far too important in an increasingly social life to ignore, and this dangerous agenda must be stopped before the impact on the children becomes too severe.