Get Lost, “Friendship Coach”

By Russell Arben Fox for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

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.

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