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Why Best Friends Are Bad For Girls

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Best friends are bad for you. So says an article published in the New York Times last week. Titled “A Best...

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Best friends are bad for you.

So says an article published in the New York Times last week. Titled “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding,” it describes a new trend among some educators and child psychologists who are actively discouraging children from having best friends. The concern is that forming exclusive one-on-one friendships in childhood encourages cliques and bullying. Some camps have even gone so far as to set up “friendship coaches” to help campers become friends with everyone else.

The reaction to this article has been both fast and furious. Last I checked there were some 387 comments on the post, most of them negative. “God, spare us the over-anxious theorists and control freaks,” wrote one commenter. Others noted the “Orwellian” nature of the anti-Best Friend movement, decrying the “pathological adult over-thinking” that lies behind it and denouncing it as yet another version of the “Nanny State.” It is an idea “beyond stupidity,” wrote someone else.

Well, call me a stupid, Orwellian, pathologically over-thinking adult (it’s OK, I’ve been called worse), but I found myself nodding in agreement while I read this article. So let me go out on a limb and tell you why I think the New York Times story has it right: Best friends aren’t great for kids. Especially for girls.

Read the rest of this story at

Image: Best friends dec 1999…and forever by Irina Souiki via flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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  1. BigLittleWolf June 21, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Interesting perspective, and a provocative position. I find myself in uncomfortable territory reading this article, for a variety of reasons.

    First, let me say that I have sons. I’ve rarely needed to intervene in any friendship, and both have had best friends all their lives. At 17 and 18, two of their best friends (girls, themselves best friends) remain at the heart of their “family” of friends.

    Second, other than these 2 girls (practically like sisters), one son only had male friends. The other had male and female friends, with more ins-and-outs and dramas, yes, often involving the girls in the group.

    Third, I have observed some of what you describe in the daughters of friends over the years. Middle school seems to see the worst of it, and I remember my own Junior High School years as a series of skirmishes and betrayals, but also, lasting friendships.

    So what I see is a mixed bag in my own experience, as a girl in our culture, and as a parent (of sons). I also see what has happened post-divorce; men friends (friends, not lovers) seemed more able to stay in my life. Married (women) withdrew, for the mot part. Granted, there are other cultural and logistical factors at play.

    Last, having attended public high school but an all female college, at 17, the young women I got to know in that very special environment were remarkable. Friendships made more than 30 years ago survive today. I wouldn’t trade that experience (or those fine women) for anything.

    My conclusions? Yes, the world is dramatically different from the one in which we grew up. Girls do tend to generate more drama, but then boys tend to resort to fisticuffs. Do we interfere? Micro-manage? I’m ambivalent. But short of incidences of bullying, leaning toward a “no.”

  2. delialloyd June 21, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    Hi. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Middle school is surely the worst of it, tho I’ve been surprised by how early the cattiness kicks in. I try not to manage too much, just make suggestions. Not sure it’s the right course but it’s hard to watch them sad. Have been enjoying your posts as well lately. Cheers Delia

  3. Madeleine June 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    Interesting article, thanks Delia. Personally, I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this issue with my children. My 6 year old is very lucky to live on a block with about seven other girls her own age – girls who like her a lot, and who are always knocking on our door to have her come play with them. But my daughter and a girl who live across the street have become fast friends to the exclusion of all the other girls – except when I intervene and make my daughter include the other girls. I’m not sure if I should sit back and let this run its course (as long as she’s not mean to other girls) or step up the intervention. (In fact, over the past year, most of the girls on the block have paired up in BFF type relationships). The other girl is very sweet, and if there is a dominant member of that relationship, it is my own daughter. (But she does not bully her friend).

    On the other hand, I have been told by several of the many professionals I consult about my son, who has severe ADD (and perhaps borderline Aspergers), that he is probably better off having just one or two really close friends. These professionals say that it is hard for a child who has problems focusing on details, as well reading other kids’ subtle social cues, to try to balance too many friendships. And indeed, while my son does play with a lot of kids, he does go through stages where he has an intense one on one relationships with just one or two other boys. These boys tend to be a bit more mature than my son, which his therapist said is common with kids like my son – kids who are scattered and unfocused naturally lean toward friends that can provide them with needed structure and organization, and act as an “external brain.” So, I guess there are benefits and downsides to having a best friend.

  4. delialloyd June 21, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    Thanks Madeleine. Fascinating response. As always, it depends on the child and maybe the real factor here is “meanness” in childhood friendships, rather than BFFs. I think the case of your son is quite different, however, as you describe. That strikes me as good advice for a very specific situation. God, so much to ponder! And we thought that breastfeeding vs bottle feeding was the big challenge of motherhood!

  5. Daryl Boylan June 22, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    The best friend thing can get out of hand — what can’t? But since it is the 1st very close bond kids form beyond family, it is a critically important step forward in development & can help them form other close relationships. A little common sense goes a long way here. I mean, are many of us wanting to abolish marriage because marriages sometimes go bad?

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