Acquiring a best friend is almost thought of as an elementary right of passage. There’s nothing cuter than one child slinging their arm around another while proudly declaring, “This is my best friend!” But what we think of as adorable isn’t always for the best. Now, a handful of parents are voicing concerns that schools are banning the term "best friends," but it might actually be a good thing.
Christine Hartwell, whose 4-year-old Julia attends Pentucket Workshop Preschool, located in Georgetown, Massachusetts, told WBZ-TV in Boston that a teacher told her daughter that the term “best friend” couldn’t be used within the school. According to WBZ, Hartwell told the station that the practice was ridiculous.
Hartwell told WBZ the school’s reasoning was that the term could lead to feelings of exclusions and the formation of cliques. (The Pentucket Workshop Preschool didn't immediately respond to Romper's request for comment.) It might seem like a stretch, but think back to your own childhood, or to any children that you know. Growing up, I remember watching kids in my daycare have complete meltdowns because their best friend was playing with someone else.
It's important to note that, according to the story so far, Pentucket staff never placed a ban on the actual relationship best friends may have. It's absolutely fair for children to have someone who they identify with or enjoy spending time with more. However, the concern is around what feelings the term "best friend" may invoke, particularly when looking at possessiveness in relationships. One goal of any early education program should be to help children adapt socially, which includes establishing precedent for healthy relationships.
Concerns around "best friend" aren't new or unique to Massachusetts. In 2013, an article in the U.K. reported on the same issue: it said children shouldn't have best friends but, instead, should have a steady network of good friends.
Parents of children at Thomas' private day school in Battersea, South West London had been told that their kids cannot have best friends, according to The Telegraph. There was no official ban on the term, but the headmaster, Ben Thomas, seemed to have no opposition to one. The Telegraph reported that according to Thomas:
You can get very possessive friendships, and it is much easier if the share friendships and have a wide range of good friends rather than obsessing too much about who their best friend is. I would certainly endorse a policy which says we should have lots of good friends, not a best friend.
In January 2018, psychologist Barbara Greenberg wrote an article in U.S. News & World Report exploring the idea of banning best friends. "I am a huge fan of social inclusion," Greenberg wrote. "The phrase best friend is inherently exclusionary."
For Greenberg, part of her concern rested with the ever-changing nature of children's social groups. Who a child identifies as their best friend can shift dramatically, from year to year or even week to week. The best friend term has pitfalls, because it teaches children to confide in one person, rather than establishing a well-rounded network.
Imagine a sitcom like Friends. It's not perfect, but it's an example many people are familiar with on some level. The entire premise of the show is that we follow this group of six friends; they may have a person who they trust or confide in more, such as Chandler and Joey, but they are still able to invest in each other as a group. This has extreme benefits; throughout the course of the show, the audience sees Chandler and Joey have the occasional fight, but they were never completely isolated by it. They had friendships that existed outside of each other.
No one is arguing that best friends themselves are bad things. Instead, people are hoping to push conversations around healthy relationships and what the weight of the term is now. And while some kids might need time to adjust, it may be a practice that has far more benefits in the end.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.