I overheard a parent in the grocery store who was distressed that their child “only had one friend” in school. My initial reaction was to sympathize with the child’s predicament, as this must signal some sort of social isolation. Yet, perhaps our culture has fostered an unrealistic sense of social neediness. In terms of friendship, an illusion of quantity versus quality permeates the very fabric of social networking websites.
How many friends/connections do you have on your ________ profile?
We place a great deal of judgement on the number of “friends” one has. Dr. Mark Leary, my mentor from Duke University, described self-esteem as being an emotional experience of social acceptance (see his book The Curse of the Self, 2004). Perhaps our need to be accepted by many is the result of some existential vacuum fueled by insecurity.
So what can we do about that?
Several research efforts, such as the study by Bollmer, Milich, Harris, and Maras (2005), indicate that a single friend can protect kids from the effects of bullying, victimization, and isolation. One good friend can help sustain children through significant struggle. Parents may feel as though they cannot find a friend for their child, or perhaps the child has difficulty connecting with her/his peers.
I strongly encourage parents to be that friend. My dad was a great friend for me growing up, and I believe that you can do the same for your kiddo. Learn more about your child, discover their interests, and find ways to engage in those interests with them. Try playing a video game with them (they can be fun, I promise) or ask them to teach you something they excel at.
Do you have questions or want more advice? Send me an email, I would love to hear from you!