Friendship – How to Find a Best Friend

Playing Children, Enghave Square Peter Hansen, 1907-1908

Playing Children, Enghave Square
Peter Hansen, 1907-1908

Children today face a lot of obstacles to having a best friend
Having a best friend has a bigger influence on children than shallower friendships, research shows. It buffers a child from stress, loneliness, teasing and abuse by peers. Children with best friends tend to be kinder and friendlier and have a better reputation on the playground. They also have less depression and anxiety through adolescence and beyond, research shows.

Schools are changing in ways that tend to disrupt stable friendships. Administrators are re-shuffling classroom groupings more often during the day, and year-to-year. To allay bullying, they also break up close relationships that bear any resemblance to a clique. The most common meeting place for best friends, by far, is school; 61% of children met their first best friend at school, according to a Harris Poll of 395 U.S. parents of children ages 3 to 17 conducted online last month in partnership with The Wall Street Journal.

Spending more time on extracurricular activities and sports is draining time from best friends too. “Teams are overall a good thing, and a place to meet potential friends, but they don’t replace the benefits of a best friend,” says Fred Frankel, author of “Friends Forever,” a book for parents about children’s friendships and founder of a children’s friendship-skills program at UCLA. “Many psychologists agree that having a best friend is one of the most significant social outcomes of childhood.

While texting and social networking online can help maintain close friendships when children are apart, online connections also put pressure on children to have a larger number of shallow contacts. A 2012 Stanford University study of 3,461 girls ages 8 to 12 found those who spent a lot of time multitasking online had fewer and poorer-quality friendships.

There’s evidence that online activity weakens children’s social skills. A 2014 study led by UCLA researchers found that 11- to 13-year-olds who spent five days at a nature camp with no electronic devices scored higher afterward, compared with controls, on a test of their ability to read emotions on others’ faces. That emotional distance makes it “easier on social media to be unkind to people,” says Kate Eshleman, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. The study of 105 children was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Nearly 3 in 4 people say it’s harder for children to form close one-on-one friendships today than when they were children, according to the Harris Poll survey of a total of more than 2,000 U.S. adults. Among leading reasons, 83% say children have less time to play freely in their neighborhoods, where many found best friends in the past; 70% of participants cite a rise in time spent social networking online. Some 7% of children have never had a best friend, based on responses from 395 parents who participated in the poll

Some children are prone to arguing because they always want to be right, she says. Encourage the child to think about whether being right is worth losing a friend, and to try listening, compromising and forgiveness instead.

Excerpts from an article By SUE SHELLENBARGER
Feb. 17, 2014 WSJ
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com

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