Kids' philosophy: What's fun without friends?

July 30, 2000|By Susan Reimer

If you are planning your family, let me make a suggestion: Have half the number of children you would like to be responsible for. Because just after your children learn to tell you "No!" they will learn to ask, "Can I bring a friend?"

This phenomenon can be traced to the Bible and the story of creation: "And the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone,' " and so God fashioned for Adam a friend, Eve.

And, as a matter of fact, it was not Noah's idea to pair the animals aboard the ark so that they might replenish the Earth after the great flood.

What happened was this: Noah was all set to take one of each, but all the animals whined and asked if they could bring a friend, and Noah -- we know what a soft touch he was, he built an ark on spec -- heaved a sigh and said, "OK. But just one friend."

That's where it all started. Since that time, no child has been willing to do anything -- from visit the dentist to ride the merry-go-round -- unless accompanied by a friend.

"We are very social critters," explains Dr. John Walkup, associate professor of child development and child psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an expert in pediatric anxieties.

"It's part of who we are. We are social beings, and it is essential to our functioning and our happiness.

"It is when [this instinct] is absent that you see impairment," he says.

Therefore, parents should not take personally this request for supplemental companionship because they will get their feelings hurt unnecessarily.

When my husband and I suggested a weekend trip to the beach, our children's response was conditional: "Can we bring a friend?" they asked almost in unison.

In other words, the company of their parents was such a negative that it must be offset by a presence of a peer to make a day of sea and sunshine endurable.

(Parents can comfort themselves by considering this request in another light: Friends have a neutralizing effect on the bickering of siblings. We have come to consider these extra children a kind of human demilitarized zone.)

My mother forbid me from asking in front of a friend whether that friend could join us, because, she said, she didn't want the child to be hurt by hearing her say, "No." Thinking back on it, I wonder who she thought she was kidding. There would never be any doubt about where the refusal came from.

But my children have never mastered my mother's lesson, and I dread the day when I am be forced to take someone else's children on a Carnival cruise or skiing in the Alps because I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Those of you out there who think you are arranging for your child to attend a camp or join a team with a friend because it will halve your car trips are kidding yourselves.

If there were no buddy, your child would refuse to go and the unintended benefit would be no car trips.

"Part of why we send our kids to these things is so that they can develop those complicated social skills and fill up their lives with the kinds of pleasures that come from social experiences," Walkup said, reassuringly.

I know exactly what he means.

Recently, my 16-year-old son attended a residential wrestling camp, but not, of course, without his friend, Paul.

The camp was so physically demanding and the boys were so far away that Paul's mother and I talked daily and worried constantly.

Thank God for Paul's mother. I couldn't have gotten through this camp without a friend.

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