One of my favorite current shows on television is the USA comedy Psych. I don’t watch a ton of shows on the USA network….Monk was pretty much it for me. I have tried a few other shows, like Burn Notice and White Collar, and while they weren’t terrible, I just couldn’t get into them. I never connected with the characters, and for me, that is a primary factor when I sit down to watch a movie, a TV show, or read a book. I have to connect with the characters.
Then, my wife Heather watched a few episodes of Psych, and she loved it. She was convinced that I would love it too. So I watched an episode or two, and really enjoyed it, but never committed to the series until we went to Virginia Beach this past spring for my wife’s embryo transfer. Following the transfer, Heather was going to be on 24 hour bed rest, so before we went to the clinic, we found the first two seasons of Psych on sale and picked them up. We promptly watched almost all of the first season the two days after her transfer, and immediately grew to love it. For those unfamiliar with the concept of the show, it follows two best buddies, Shawn and Gus, who run a psychic detective agency. The catch? Neither of them are psychics. Shawn, who inherited extreme observational tendencies from his mother and had his observation and deduction skills honed by his obsessive former police detective father, uses those abilities to solve crimes. Due to a rather unfortunate incident with the police, Shawn was forced to attribute his deductions to psychic visions, and ever since the police have used him as a psychic investigator.
The show does several things well. The character development is strong, with each member of the cast being fleshed out to some degree over the course of the show. The dialogue is witty and engaging, with lots of pop culture and film references thrown in for laughs. But one of the strongest elements is the relationship between the show’s two main characters. Shawn and Gus have been friends since childhood, and their onscreen relationship is identifiable to any audience member familiar with the “straight man, funny man” routine. I’m always a sucker for this thing…I’m a huge fan of Abbot and Costello, so the Psych formula was endearing to me. Not only that, but I can identify with the idea of having a best friend.
Recently, I read an article on the New York Times regarding best friends. It seems that in recent years, some educators and child psychologists have become convinced that despite thousands of years of societal and biological impulses, it is bad for children to have best friends. They have become convinced that children having specific close interpersonal relationships leads to bullying and cliques.
“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”
“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”
And of course, educators and counselors know better than parents the needs of a child. After all, they have a degree!
Ok, seriously. I find it a bit disturbing that things that used to be considered normal, typical child behavior are now being considered abnormal and dangerous to the social or mental development of a child. Are there times when friendships lead to bullying and cliques? Absolutely. And to that I say, so what? Bullying and cliques have been around since before there were schools. I’m going to venture to guess that this new psycho-analysis is not going to eliminate bullying or cliques. On the other hand, the elimination of best friends is a sad thing, and in my uneducated opinion, is potentially detrimental to the social maturity of a child. Best friends transcend typical group friendships. They are someone you can confide secrets in, share experiences with, and they help prepare you for adult experiences such as marriage. For after all, what is a wife or a husband if not a best friend? My wife is my best friend. And the valuable experiences I learned as a child navigating the ins and outs of close interpersonal relationships helped prepare me for my marriage.
My best friend growing up was a kid named Courtney Dowland (Courtney, if you read this, what’s up, buddy?). As far as I can recall, Courtney and I became good friends probably around second grade. I don’t remember too much about those early days. I do remember the first time I got permission to stay at his house, and how excited we were. I remember hanging out with him on the playground, remember playing Nintendo with him at his house, remember setting off firecrackers in his back yard, and staying up all night watching movies. As we got older the activities changed…we’d ride around town in his beat up Corsica at lunchtime, and drive to Wal-Mart on weekends and randomly move stuff all over the store just for kicks (there wasn’t a lot to do in Greene County). We’d buy $1 paratrooper toys from the Dollar General to pitch them out the window (they never floated gracefully to earth). We’d also butt heads a few times, but in the end, we always found a way to reconcile our differences and retain our friendship.
And yeah, there were times when we butted heads with other kids at the school. My school wasn’t free of cliques or bullies. But having a best friend helped you navigate the ins and outs of junior high and high school, because regardless of who did or didn’t like you, you knew you had a friend you could count on.
It’s sad to me that some know-it-all might attempt to deprive other kids of that same experience. Having a best friend taught you valuable lessons about trust, about reconciliation, and about putting people in your life you could count on. I had a lot of friends, to be sure. To be truthful, by the time I was a senior in high school, there wasn’t really anybody left that I didn’t get along with. I had other close friends, as well. But the experience of having a best friend in my formative years had prepared me for moments beyond my graduation from high school.
I understand the concept of having “big groups of friends,” as Ms. Laycob puts it. My wife and I both have wide and diverse groups of friends. But having a big group of friends, and having someone in your life that you can confide in and talk to about difficult decisions and inner turmoil are two totally different things.
I know cultural and societal norms are changing. It wasn’t that long ago that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg declared an end to the age of privacy, and to some degree, I understand what he’s saying. I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and while I try to keep what I share to a minimum, I regularly see people sharing their most intimate thoughts and secrets online. Wives and husbands tweet or message each other romantic musings for the public to see, or share details of personal interactions with friends and family members. At any given time, I can know what people are eating, where they are shopping at, or what their plans are for the weekend. Even blogs like this one…I’ve shared triumphs and experiences for anyone on the internet to see. And some of this has bled over into our interpersonal relationships with others.
I’ve got 130 connections on Facebook (and I daresay that I’m way below the average FB user). But the fact is, there are less than a handful of those 130 that I would feel comfortable divulging deeply personal information with. That, I reserve for my closest friends (primarily, my wife). And it’s my personal experience that those who become too open, and don’t have a few close personal friendships to rely on, suffer from loneliness the most, and get burnt the easiest. Trust is an integral part of friendship, and frankly, having “large groups of friends” doesn’t factor in the beneficial aspects of having deeply personal relationships, such as trust and intimacy (and I mean that in a platonic way). If life has taught me one thing, it’s that you can’t rely on just having large groups of friends. I can count on quite a few of my friends to offer prayer for me when I’m sick, or when I’m facing a crisis. I can count on quite a few friends to offer me congratulations when I get blessed, or condolences when I’m in grief. But the number of friends I can turn to when I need an ear to talk to, when I need a confidant, when I need advice, when I need a kick in the pants, or when I need a shoulder to lean on…that’s another story. And that kind of friendship needs to be learned from an early age.
What about the dangers of friendships gone awry?
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.”
So to protect children from the potential grief of losing a friend, we just protect them from making close friends? How in the name of common sense can this be healthy?
You can’t protect children from grief. You SHOULDN’T protect children from grief. Part of life is experiencing loss. Whether that loss involves the passing of a beloved family member, or whether it is a friend that walks out of your life, these are experiences you are going to go through (unless you are a hermit and sequester yourself from the rest of the world). This kind of thinking is not rational, nor is it helpful in developing and preparing children for the real world. It’s akin to the do-gooders who want to ban recess because a child might fall down and skin their knuckles. Why in the world would we want to protect kids from the beautiful experience of life? Yes, losing a friend can hurt. But it hurts because the experience of having a friend is so valuable. We should be teaching kids to love hard and live hard. Fully commit. How much joy can you get out of life if you are always trying to protect yourself from the pain of loss? And how are these kids going to be equipped for the realities of life with this kind of attitude? It’s this kind of attitude that says, don’t fully commit to your marriage because if something goes awry, it can be devastating. Don’t fully commit to your work, because if the business fails, it can be devastating. Don’t fully commit to anything or anyone, because if you lose that, you won’t be able to cope. But no amount of protection is going to keep you from experiencing pain at one point or another. But you can protect yourself from loving, and in so doing rob yourself of the most valuable moments of your life.
Thankfully, the article does take the time to point out that not everyone shares the views being expressed.
“Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children?” asked Brett Laursen, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University whose specialty is peer relationships. “Imagine the implication for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.”
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. If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?
My point exactly. I wouldn’t have traded my experiences growing up for anything in the world, because they’ve helped prepare me for later experiences in my life.
I’ve got several close friends now, but my best friend is still my wife. There’s nobody else that I trust as implicitly, nobody else that I feel as confident in turning to when I need help with problems. We butt heads sometimes, but I’ve learned that proving myself right isn’t nearly as valuable as my relationship with my best friend. And that’s a lesson I learned a long time ago.
As for the idea that best friends are bad for you….well, as Shawn Spencer says: “I’d say that’s pretty ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones in a Bond movie, but still.”