The paranoid delusions of the expert class 

The indomitable James Poulos, writing from his new perch at the excellent Ricochet blog, links to this frightening New York Times piece:

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. […]

 “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.”

Words fail. As James notes,

How deep must the depths of anxiety be into which our administrative class is regularly plunged. They are getting the bends. They are seeing spots. Potential trouble. Anything that hints of exclusivity. These are operatically pathological attitudes, utterly paranoid and inimical to human liberty in any form. No matter how 'political' this insanity seems, real politics -- practiced by those who are friends, if nothing else -- is impossible in a world where no friend can be closer or better to you or I than any other.

Yes, but what about the children? We can’t have them excluding one another or forming friendships that might infringe on other kids’ abilities to have equally wonderful friendships, and this could, inexplicably, lead to bullying. Or something.

Russell Arben Fox, writing of his daughter and her best friend, brings out the fisticuffs:

If some "friendship coach" at their elementary school tried to break them apart on the playground, in the name of, I don't know, "diversifying their portfolio of friendships," or some such garbage, I would not hold myself responsible for my actions. Neither should any caring parent, I think.

Part of childhood and growing up is learning how to feel pain. Helicopter parenting is bad enough, but when that attitude gets institutionalized we’re in for some serious trouble. We already live in a highly litigious society. Now we have the expert class warning us that close friendships might be damaging to our poor, fragile children’s psyches. Next they’ll tell us that being too close to family could cause people without families psychological trauma, and the next thing you know you’re living in that creepy commune from The Giver.

Now, it’s true that in the modern era of Facebook, Twitter, and the hosts of other social networking options we have online, nobody has best friends at all. Indeed, commitment comes easy or not at all to us denizens of the intertubes. But real life and online life should be different. You should get in trouble from time to time in real life. You’ll certainly get a black eye if you talk to people in the real world the way many internet commenters do online. And black eyes are important. They teach kids, at a very rudimentary level, what cause and effect means.

Best friends teach us all kinds of things, including the pain of loss, betrayal, and, perhaps most importantly, loyalty. And yes, loyalty can be painful, but it’s also one of the most vital lessons we learn as children. Later in life that loyalty translates into hard work, patriotism, sacrifice, and the multitudinous other life skills necessary to be a citizen and a parent and a grown-up human being. We learn these through the pains of friendship more than through any taught lesson. These are not things we can be tested on. 

Certainly bullying has its limits, and kids who are chronically bullied do need help from parents and teachers and other adults, but most bullying is relatively benign. Sometimes it can teach us valuable lessons, not the least of which is our own personal limitations. Again, I'll turn to the inherent value of a black eye. Realism is not a necessary feature of childhood, but it is necessary if we are to ever grow up.

My only consolation here is that no matter how hard these busy-bodies try I’m quite certain they’ll fail. Human nature is a powerful obstacle to even the most ardent proponents of social engineering.

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E. D. Kain

E.D. Kain is an Examiner Opinion Zone contributor, freelance writer, and blogger living in Arizona. He writes at True/Slant and at League of Ordinary Gentlemen... more
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