According to a piece in U.S. News and World Report, some schools in the United States and Europe “are attempting to ban the entire concept of children having best friends,” because it’s not inclusive and kids get hurt.
“The notion of choosing best friends is deeply embedded in our culture,” child and family psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg writes in a piece titled “Should Schools Ban Kids from Having Best Friends?”
“Nonetheless, there is, in my opinion, merit to the movement to ban having best friends,” she continues.
According to Greenberg, “there is something dreadfully exclusionary occurring when a middle schooler tells the girl sitting next to her that she is best friends with the girl sitting in front of them.”
“Child after child comes to my therapy office distressed when their best friend has now given someone else this coveted title,” she continues.
Greenberg says “Bring it on” to the idea of banning “best friends.” She explains:
I am a huge fan of social inclusion. The phrase best friend is inherently exclusionary. Among children and even teens, best friends shift rapidly. These shifts lead to emotional distress and would be significantly less likely if our kids spoke of close or even good friends rather than best friends. . . . There’s an unspoken ranking system; and where there is a ranking system, there are problems. I see kids who are never labeled best friends, and sadly, they sit alone at lunch tables and often in their homes while others are with their best friends.
Is a best friend an “exclusionary” thing? Sure. Do kids without best friends feel like garbage sometimes? Absolutely. But the truth is, Greenberg is making the same incorrect assumption that so many people make when they advocate for banning language: that changing the language will change a single damn thing about the reality.
Instructing children, as Greenberg suggests, to talk about “close friends” instead of “best friends” isn’t going to change those friendships any more than suddenly referring to your ex as “my boyfriend” is going to mean that you’re back together.
Think about it: Even if a school forbids children from using the phrase “best friend,” some kids will still have one person with whom they really connect, and it will be obvious to everyone that that two are closer to each other than to anyone else. Kids who don’t have best friends will still be aware of it when they, say, have to pick a partner for a project (if that’s even still allowed) and they keep getting the shaft from their “close friend” in favor of one of that “close friend’s” “close friends” —- the best friend.
It’s tough to be in grade school without a best friend. I know; I did a few stints in that hellhole myself, and I spent a lot of gym classes having to partner up with a girl who bullied me (and smelled like cigarettes) — because I didn’t have a “best” friend, just “close” friends who were actually “best” friends with someone else. But would my school’s banning “best friends” have made any of that easier for me? No, because even though I was a kid, I was not a complete f***ing idiot. I could still easily tell you who were best friends, and that I did not have a best friend, because of these things called social cues.
It would be nice to create a world without pain, and without exclusion, but that’s going to be a tough thing to do. For one thing, humans are by nature exclusionary. We’re all different, and we’ll all connect (or not connect) with one another in different ways. Every single person who has ever existed knows some people whom they like more than they like other people. It’s normal, and it’s not going to change — especially not by something so simple as refusing to call things what they are.
Editor’s Note: This piece was previously covered in an article on the College Fix.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.