One Close Friend Is All You Need

He walked into meet me for his tutoring session during periods 4 and 6 and began to tell me how the other boys, whom he had thought were his friends, had turned on him. He was angry, frustrated, and genuinely hurt. The pain and confusion on his 12-year-old face was very real.

We all know that the middle school years are some of the toughest, both socially and emotionally. If we think back to our own Junior High past, I’m sure all of us can recall at least one incident in the cafegymatorium where we were the ones feeling left out. I might go so far to say, however, that things may be socially worse today than it was when we were kids due in part to the fact that technology enables the immediacy of information to perpetuate the rumor mill faster than it has ever been before. My student was going through exactly that.

I had two choices at this critical, emotional moment: (1) to comfort him by explaining that things do get better and this is just a phase, which provides a little solace but no action to better his situation, and then try to get back to our ‘Lord of the Flies’ quiz that afternoon or (2) to educate him on the levels of friendship, explaining that not everyone will or should be your friend, and give him a task to help at that exact moment.  I decided to forgo our Literature lesson that day and focus on educating him instead on the elements of Social Acceptance.

In Socially Curious and Curiously Social: A Social Guidebook for Bright Teens and Young Adults, Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke, both well-respected Speech Pathologists, explain the varying levels of friendship and why it’s okay, and in fact normal, to have only one close friend. This book breaks it down beautifully:

  • Level 6 (Highest): Close Friend. May only have 1 or 2 in a lifetime
  • Level 5: Bonded Friend
  • Level 4: Evolving Friendship (make effort)
  • Level 3: Possible Friendship (less effort because of shared setting)
  • Level 2: Acquaintance
  • Level 1: (Lowest) Friendly Greetings
  • Floaters: Dating and On Again-Off Again Friends

If we dig a little deeper and really think about how many close friends we have in our adult lives, those people who we share special secrets and dreams with, I bet it’s hovering around one or two. That’s the way it should be. Even if your child is the most popular kid at school and it seems as if they are constantly being invited to playdates and birthday parties and sleepovers, he or she may actually feel more alone because although they are surrounded by people they don’t have that one close friend to confide in.

I explained this pyramid to my student and asked him to write each of his friends next to the appropriate level. It turns out the boys who were picking on him were mainly Floaters (On Again-Off Again Friends). One of his friends who had not been part of that group was placed in Level 4, an ‘Evolving Friend’. So much of my student’s focus had been on these other boys that he hadn’t put any time into making this Level 4 Friend a possible Close Friend. “You should ask your Level 4 Friend if you can hang out sometime”, I prompted. He came back after his next break and announced as he walked into the room, “Well, you were right! I just asked my Level 4 friend to hang out and we’re going to this weekend”. I praised him for his newfound awareness and the fact that he “got it” so quickly. Who knows, maybe a Level 6 Close Friendship will evolve out of his ability to view a friend in a new light and on a new level.

Now, back to “Lord of the Flies”.

socially curious and curiously social

Check out Socially Curious and Curiously Social  for some great explanations about Social Acceptance and Socially Accepted Behavior

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