I got another write-in question. That's right. And this time it's from someone who is not in the least related to me. Not by blood, at least. It's a very sensible question about whether children should have friends.

The NYT helpfully informs me that "best friends" for children are, in fact, bad for them. Is this just more overprotection? I figured if anyone could see the downsides of having (or not having) a BFF, it's the Catastrophizer.

In "A Best Friend: You Must Be Kidding", Hilary Stout discusses opinions held by various professionals about whether children should develop close attachments to other children.

"I don't think it's particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend," says Jay Jacobs, director of Timber Lake Camp in New York State. "If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child's ability to explore other options in the world."

However, as Stout notes: "The last people who should be considered credible when it comes to childhood psychology are camp directors." No, she didn't say that. She said: "Many psychologists believe that close childhood friendships not only increase a child's self-esteem and confidence, but also help children develop the skills for healthy adult relationships - everything from empathy, the ability to listen and console, to the process of arguing and making up". 

So what should one do, or think behind other people's backs while they do?

1) If a child has a close friendship, it will undoubtedly end badly. Childhood friendships are grounded in things like a shared love of the colour orange or a shared hatred of the colour orange. When children grow older, and they will, they'll realize that friendship is more complicated. Based more on whether one likes or dislikes Wolf Blitzer, for example. Of course, the fact that the childhood friendship will inevitably end badly could be seen as a good thing: adult friendships are also inclined to end badly, or at least to become trapped in a defeated, passive-aggressive stalemate, so early experiences of interpersonal failure will prepare him or her for the interpersonal disappointments of later life. 

2) If a child has multiple, less serious friendships with other children, he or she will probably never develop whatever skills are necessary for forming and maintaining healthy, grown-up relationships. He or she will always be lonely in a crowd, overly thick-skinned (or overly thin-skinned) and sociopathic.

3) Don't get worked up. I can testify to the fact that this is not an either/or proposition: it is entirely possible to be a child and not form either one unhealthy, intense friendship or a number of superficial friendships. I'm sure it will bring you great comfort to know that it is likely that neither of these problems will ever be yours, nor those of any children of yours. 
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

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