Is it better for children to hang out in large groups than to develop close friendships? Do we really want the state involved in regulating our children’s relationships? Some counselors would answer ‘yes’ to both of these questions. In a recent New York Times article, Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School, was reported as saying:
“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults – teachers and counselors – we try to encourage them not to do that…We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”
With the exception of moderating disruptive classroom bullying and encouraging kindness, courtesy, and tolerance, public school officials should refrain from tinkering with childhood friendships. It is inappropriate for schools to try to force children to hide their preferences of certain children. It is natural and desirable for children to prefer some children over others, perhaps because these children have proven to be kinder or more trustworthy, or perhaps because they have common attributes or values. Even if the origin of a friendship is based on one girl liking another girl’s freckles, it is just not the role of the state to intervene and say that such a preference is wrong. Prohibiting such preferences is the ultimate anti-discrimination agenda. It stems from the notion that everyone deserves to be equally liked, and that close friendships are bad because they necessarily entail elevating one person, the ‘friend,’ over others. But you can’t regulate away human nature, and the state shouldn’t try to.