Get Lost, “Friendship Coach”

The New York Times has given us another bit of upper-middle-class analysis: it appears that the best, most conscientious helicopter parents around are keeping a close eye out for that threatening creature, your child’s 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….

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.

“I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,” said Jay Jacobs, the camp’s director. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.”

That this is hideous, hilarious, and horrifying goes without saying. But I go ahead and say so anyway, right here. Not everyone will be blessed with a best friend when they are a child, and many children don’t want or need one. But for some–more than some; for many–a devoted friend, one with whom you can fill unstructured hours and create together whole worlds of discovery out of your toys, your yards, your bicycles, and the vacant lot next door, is something much to be desired. One of my daughters has such a friend. Were some “friendship coach” to appear and discourage them from playing together at length on their elementary school’s jungle gym, I wouldn’t hold myself responsible for my actions.

8 comments on this post.
  1. Amy B:

    This is baffling. I can see intervening if the friendship is somehow toxic – if one child is dominating the other, or if the friendship is leading one or both of them to make bad choices. But otherwise, the best friend relationship is precious and should be encouraged! I have had my best friend for 20 years, since we were 8 years old. Although we live far apart now, with different lives and different dreams, we both know we can always count on the friendship, love and support of the other. I don’t know many other people who have someone like that in their lives, and I am so grateful to have her. What nonsense to intentionally disrupt something like that…

  2. Fred:

    ah, the specter of ‘particular friendships’ rears its ugly head

  3. Russell Arben Fox:

    I completely agree, Amy. I allow, as I write on my blog, that there is some tiny kernel of sense lurking around the article: if, as you say, a friendship develops so as to revolve entirely around exclusion (towards others) and vindictiveness (of one friend towards the other), then obviously that is a legitimate area for parental concern. But to presume, because of that possibility, that truly close friendships amongst children should be nipped in the bud, so as to better develop some broader network of friends, is madness. Some children will organically develop just such network; others, like yourself (and like my second oldest daughter), will luck into finding exactly the sort of loving, supporting, respect-teaching friend that they need. To try to manage children away from such a find is just appalling.

  4. WmO'H:

    This is the enemy. Where do these people come from?

  5. Mark Perkins:

    This is enraging. If, Russell, you need any assistance in your ass-kicking, I’m up for it.

    Basically what Jay Jacobs, idiot extraordinaire, is trying to do is prevent pain by preventing intimacy. As C.S. Lewis says, the way to ensure you don’t get hurt is not to love anything or anyone. And that’s basically what M. Jacobs tries to make happen. Nobody gets close, nobody gets hurt.

  6. David:

    Don’t you know that the only real value in friendship is utilitarian? If your relationship is furthering your success oriented life-path, it ‘s just a distraction at best and more likely a burden holding you back.

    I have never stopped hearing, if you want to be a success you have to ditch your loser friends and hang out with successful people. Because relationships are all about what you get out of them.

    (I never understood how I as a less successful person would fool more successful people into hanging out with a loser like me anyway.)

  7. John Gorentz:

    I see that Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids hasn’t yet weighed in on this topic. So I sent her a link to your article in the hope that she and her readers will do so.

  8. D.W. Sabin:

    Plan every little facet of the kiddies existence so that they are better factotums for the Happy Faced State.
    When everyone is your friend, you can expect nobody is….or , that “friendship” has been reclassified by the Eunuchs in the Satrapy’s Scribbling house to mean :”That which makes things run more smoothly”

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