Just in Time for Summer Camp Season

Here's an interesting story from the NY Times that gave me pause. It's about best friend pairings versus group bondings. It seems that some schools and summer camps are trying to get kids to be friends with more kids. From the article:

But increasingly, some educators and other professionals who work with children are asking a question that might surprise their parents: Should a child really have a best friend?

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.

Schools are trying to tell parents and kids not to have a best friend? Again, from the article:

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship.

(And we'll have another post on those texts soon.)

Summer camp?

As the calendar moves into summer, efforts to manage friendships don’t stop with the closing of school. In recent years Timber Lake Camp, a co-ed sleep-away camp in Phoenicia, N.Y., has started employing “friendship coaches” to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else. If two children seem to be too focused on each other, the camp will make sure to put them on different sports teams, seat them at different ends of the dining table or, perhaps, have a counselor invite one of them to participate in an activity with another child whom they haven’t yet gotten to know.

What do the experts say?

But such an attitude worries some psychologists who fear that children will be denied the strong emotional support and security that comes with intimate friendships.

If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?

“No one can teach you what a great friend is, what a fair-weather friend is, what a treacherous and betraying friend is except to have a great friend, a fair-weather friend or a treacherous and betraying friend,” said Michael Thompson, a psychologist who is an author of the book “Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children.”

If you've ever seen Mad Men, you know what the hands off, distant kind of parenting looks like. I don't think it was a good thing (although the scene where little Sally, age 8, runs through the house with a plastic bag over her head and all her mother can say is "stop running in the house" was hilarious). However, what are we doing to our kids to micromanage their relationships? Just as we have to have the courage to one day let them out of the house by themselves, cross the street themselves, etc., we have to have the courage to let them learn about relationships.

It is painful for a child to be rejected. All of us have felt this at one time or another. What can be even more painful is to be the parent and know that you can't make other kids like your kid. BUT there are friends out there of all stripes and sometimes it takes a little bit of work to get your child together with other kids who might share similar interests.

I can kind of see camps trying to get kids to know more kids at camp than just one. It's a short period of time and they want each kid to have met and engaged with other kids and there are lots of activities to get that to happen. But at school? If there is bullying or unkindness going on between kids, sure, step in. (And by unkindness I mean where the teacher sees deliberate snubbing or cruelty.) But kids have got to find their own way otherwise, will they ever be able to face life?


Steve said…
I was trying to decide between ridiculous and silly, but have decided on ridiculously silly. These are vain and possibly harmful attempts to control the experiences (good and bad) of kids, in the same way we (the collective We) try to control nature. I would never send my kids to this camp. A skinned knee (or the interpersonal equivalent) can be a great and healthy thing.
Jet City mom said…
My youngest started attending overnight camp when she was 8 & she began working as a CIT and later as a counselor- although mostly with middle school age ( she is talented!)- her sister attended the camp when she was 12 & became a WIT, and riding instructor- this is the first year since 1994 that we won't be going to meet the Boata- how sad is that?

One of the great things about camp is that the adults are usually under 25 or even younger & they remember how it was to be a kid and can really relate to the campers while role modeling appropriate behavior.

Another nice thing about camp- is getting to know new kids & to perhaps venture out of the role that your friends from school see you in- perhaps that is what they really wanted to stress?

I can see the point of not being too tied to one friend- because then there are expectations of their time- and interest, that will change over time & if you have put all your eggs in one basket so to speak- that can be a big " trauma" when a break happens- I speak from experience as a parent and as a child. Not that we should steer our kids away from pain, but as adults we should be alert for situations where they need help managing.

We wouldn't want to encourage our kids to put an all consuming amount of intensity into a romantic relationship while young- why would we feel differently with a platonic relationship?

That doesn't mean that you can't have a " best" friend, but they shouldn't be your only friend.
I get that Emeraldkity but do you want other adults managing your kid's relationships? There's something about that kind of action that bothers me.
jp70 said…
I was on the fence about sending my 9 year old to sleep away camp this summer. One of the reasons I was hesitant was because everyone I knew who had kids going were going with really close friends and told me it was a good idea. I wanted to send her off to meet new friends and have that fun experience I enjoyed as a child, but I started to get worried that if everyone there went to camp with their friends, she would feel excluded. I feel the same way about sports teams. When I was a kid, my parents just signed me up and I was put on a team. Now, you have to rally/plan/etc. etc. to try to get your kids on a team and politics seem involved. While I'm happy with my kid's friends, I think it is great for them to venture off and make their own new friends with new experiences such as sports and camps. That's my opinion anyway :)
Sahila said…
I remember being sad cos I didnt have a 'best' friend.... hung out with a group of others and our personal circumstances and distance from school made it hard to spend time developing one friendship over the others... but also, as an immigrant child felt on the periphery of my non-immigrant peers, so that made a difference also...

Now I find that life brings people into my sphere of influence that resonate with whatever are the most important issues/interests in my life...

And I've come to realise that we all walk this life path by ourselves anyway... we share parts of the path, some paths run parallel for longer or shorter periods of time but we are all essentially alone, and its good to get to the point of understanding and acceptance of that - very healthy...

From the Jane Goodall website:

"Reason, Season, or Lifetime FriendsWhen someone is in your life for a reason, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed outwardly or inwardly. S/he has come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you with guidance and support, to aid you physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

S/he is there to meet a need. Then without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, s/he will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes s/he dies. Sometimes s/he walks away. Sometimes s/he acts up or out and forces you to take a stand. What we must realize is that the need has been met.

When a person comes into your life for a season, it is because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn. S/he may bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. S/he may teach you something you have never done. S/he usually gives you an unbelievable amount of joy.

Lifetime relationships teach you lifetime lessons. Those things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. You must accept the lesson, love the person/people anyway, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life."

Good for kids to learn... and they do, in their own organic time, without adults having to herd them so tightly through the journey of friendship...
Sahila said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris S. said…
You have to be friends with everybody? Next thing you know they will ban introverts...I'm doomed.
Jet City mom said…
Melissa- in terms of school- I think the best thing teachers can do is be role models.

I wouldn't want for them to be selecting playmates- although I think some rules are fine- like don't pass out birthday invitations at school unless you are inviting everyone.
It's ok to model polite behavior and to have etiquitte (sp?) rules.
Don't have favorites in the classroom ( which is huge and such a problem for everyone- not only the kids who are ignored but for the " favorite")
Don't make snarky comments about adults or kids/parents.

Even when dealing with older kids- middle school /high school age- I know that teachers express personal feelings about politicians- and others in the media- However- they can be clear which is opinion & what is fact- & shouldn't lump their opinions under facts.

I think this is a good topic for discussion- particulary as it is tied to the recess issue and the seat time issue. When recess/out of classroom time is limited- kids have less time to learn social skills- you don't have " free time" in PE- it is PE.
You don't have " free time" in art- even with free choice- it is still " art".

I don't think this is critical because kids need more than one friend- I think it is critical because bullying/violence is a huge issue and when kids don't learn how to interact with each other in a healthy way when they are younger- they don't all of a sudden snap to, just because they have turned 16 or 18 or 25.

I think we can become much better at building students character and teaching compassion for others.

McClure course teaches students about compassion
WenD said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said…
I think the idea of a "Friendship Coach" dilutes whatever enjoyment most kids will gain from camp. Kids should be able to spend time with close friends, as well as get to know other kids along the way. I'm not sure who is over reaching more, parents who make sure to send their kid with a friend (will the play dates ever stop?), or the camps that try to counteract this practice with play directors i.e. coaches.

I also don't see how this is necessary toward stopping bullies. Of course it is the job of school staff to address and stop bullying, and likewise, camp counselors. Camp counselors and teachers are usually there because they know how to offer activities that bring kids together. Maybe all it would take is a parent to mention that camp offers the opportunity to meet new people, not have a 1-2 week play date.

Why does this remind me of the arguments leading up to passage of the Civil Rights Act? We mandate access, not friendships.

My kids would run from the thought of Julie the Cruise Director setting up play dates. School is out. Let them enjoy their time away from the grind and make friends in their own way. Activities should be enough to encourage socialization, at a minimum, knowing who everyone is, and let kids decide on their own. I wonder if part of this is also coming from the trend I see in kids who are losing the ability to entertain themselves or work cooperatively? The thought of no electronics, no phones, no media, just learning how to build a shelter with 5 new friends after hiking 20 miles? That's a challenge, without adults around to judge or interfere.
That just seems mean, to take away a friend on purpose. It's one thing if the pair is deliberately excluding others (as in "You can't play with us!", but to separate kids who are bonding?

Rather, the friendship coaches should be employed to help those kids who don't have ANY friends in how to make and keep friends. There're skills involved and they can be taught.

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