The XX Factor

Even Best Friends Are Dangerous Now

Today, the New York Times adds one more thing to parents’ ever-expanding list of Things To Be Freaked Out About: best friends ! No, seriously. That boy or girl your child shares secrets with on the playground? Totally destabilizing force .

First off, this is what our colleague Jack Shafer would call a bogus trend story -there’s no data backing up the author’s claim that “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?” (The only statistics cited are from a 2009 survey of 3,000 people ages 8 to 24, in which 94 percent of respondents said they had at least one close friend.)

Even when you go through the more anecdotal material, “the end of the best friend” isn’t quite the picture that emerges. Two of the adults sounding the warning bell do seem to be anti-best friends. But the other two seem to be saying something more like, “we encourage kids to socialize widely and we watch for trouble signs.”

Obviously, if “a best friend pairing [is] destructive to either child, or to others in the classroom,” teachers should intervene, as one school psychologist says. If Little Sophia or Atticus is making your kid punch other kids, then yes, by all means, have a conversation with them! But otherwise, I just can’t see the rationale for being afraid of your kid’s best friend. As an only child, I know that my best friends (and I’ve always been of the opinion that you can have multiple ones) were a way to anchor myself in the world. Personally, I can’t think of any instances where they actually prevented me from having other friends. Sure, I got jealous some times, and sure, we fought-sometimes as wildly and heartbreakingly as I have with any boyfriend. But I can’t imagine going through the terrors of middle school or high school (or college or young adulthood or my nascent 30s, for that matter) without those bulwarks. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned?