21.3.19

Best Friends, Worst Enemies

This book carries an unwieldy title Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children, and an equally weighty line up of authors: Michael Thompson and Catherine O'Neill Grace with Lawrence J. Cohen. Phew! However, it's an accessible and interesting examination of children's friendships and what Thompson calls 'social cruelty,' possibly a better term for what we normally refer to as bullying.

Thompson traces the evolution of children's social relationships, from infancy through primary school 'best friends', to mixed friendship groups to romantic pairings. It occurred to me that I might have missed some stages in this progression! I attended lots of different primary schools so most of my friendships were fairly fleeting (though I did have an intense 'best friendship' with Eva Kumpulainen in primary school in Mt Hagen -- she moved to the US and I became an atheist, which sadly proved the death knell for our faltering penpal relationship). Then I went to an all-girls high school, which meant that I missed out on meeting any boys my own age until I hit university. So I went straight from 'best friends with girls' to 'romantic pairings' without practising friendship with boys in between... This was a serious handicap to my social and romantic life for many years. I've watched with envy as my daughters have formed  a range of relationships with both boys and girls -- some easy, some intense, some difficult, some antagonistic -- all helpful.

Thompson and his co-authors emphasise the deep need that children (and adults) feel for connection and recognition from their peers, and offer sensible advice for schools and parents about when and how to intervene when things go wrong, and when to hang back and let kids work it out for themselves. A useful and engaging book.



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