Parents and psychologists are discussing a subtle concern: Children today face a lot of obstacles to having a best friend.
Many forces are contributing, from the much-discussed rising screen time and less free neighborhood playtime to the growth of team sports and changes in how schools organize classes. Parents can help their children overcome the hurdles, researchers say, by helping them learn the nuances of finding and keeping close friends, and not by intervening in playground battles.
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.
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.
Meredith Ethington was surprised when a first-grade classmate gave her daughter Avery a “Best Friends Forever” necklace. It seemed risky at an age when children “change their minds so quickly,” says Ms. Ethington, of Salt Lake City. Indeed, the classmate soon took the necklace back for no apparent reason, and Avery “really took it to heart.”
Ms. Ethington comforted Avery and encouraged her to look for friends who share her interests and make her happy, rather than sad and upset, says Ms. Ethington, who wrote about the incident on her blog. “It was heartbreaking for me as a parent to see her go through that, but that’s how they learn. It’s going to make her stronger,” Ms. Ethington says in an interview. Avery, now 8, has made several new friends this year.
Those smaller, emotionally dense circles can be good for you, too. Researchers in other studies have found that being with people we like and feel comfortable around produces oxytocin, which quiets the amygdala—the fear and emotion center of the brain. Heart rate and blood pressure are reduced in the presence of those we trust. More often than not, they tend to be lifelong or childhood friends.
People seem to want more friends in their lives, building and cultivating followers on Twitter and Instagram and inviting and adding acquaintances on Facebook. Often, though, those additional connections are more superficial or specific to certain passages or parts of life, like work or school. When time is short, less meaningful acquaintances may be blocked, unfriended or ignored.
Ms. Costello, who is married and works for an optometrist, used to be on Facebook, posting shots of her son, but she grew disillusioned. Online personas seemed fake and irritated her. She unfriended the most annoying before dropping off Facebook eight months ago and has quit talking to people who “are too much drama.”
FULL ARTICLE: Adults: http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-time-for-fewer-better-friends-1423611853