By Jill Carstens
It is not a startling fact that friendship can be good for us, but how we go about friendship in a digital age matters. With less real-life facetime happening in our world, being intentional in the way we “friend” can make the difference in whether a friendship is temporary and a little superficial or a rewarding endeavor that has the potential to last a lifetime and affect our lives in myriad positive ways.
In my preschool classroom making friends was of the highest priority. Whether a child was boisterous or of the quiet sort, I would coach my charges in how to endeavor having a friend. It takes a bit of selflessness. But that selflessness can be very rewarding.
A new book called “Platonic” by Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D, emphasizes that deep ties with others can provide a witness to ourselves, helping us to gain more self-knowledge and more self-love. Franco asserts that a solid friendship requires a willingness to be vulnerable so we can open ourselves up to others, a critical part of an authentic friendship.
Sometimes we need to take the initiative. Young children are often great models of this! I remember my young son going up to children he did not yet know at the child care at my gym. “Hi, I’m Jack,” he would say, “want to play?” And most often I observed him going off to play with that child before I moved on to my workout. Not everyone holds friendship in high places, and our society often prioritizes romantic relationships over platonic types. During my teaching tenure I would occasionally meet parents who considered school a place only for cognitive, academic achievement. They were pleasantly surprised to find that their children indeed made friends and these connections broadened the scope of their learning. As peers sit side by side they converse and observe one another’s activity, engaging in a back and forth with ideas and information that raises the level of their development.
The educational theorist Lev Vygotsky, a contemporary of Piaget, illuminated the benefits of peer learning. He observed that when children work together they can reach their zone of proximal development; jumping to higher cognitive goals they might not have been able to reach by direct teacher instruction only.
His research, noted in a 2021 verywell.com article by educational psychologist Kendra Cherry emphasized that the greatest cognitive growth happens in early childhood through social interaction and that adults should maximize opportunities for children to cooperate effectively together.
These interactions also offer young children their first steps towards responsibility when their actions might positively or negatively affect a group. Franco talks about “productive anger,” when we can learn even from conflicts with friends if we approach those conflicts with an openness to what they can teach us.
She says that these connections validate the idea that humans need each other in an empowering way. Our attachments to other people help us to grow. Franco asserts that a solid friendship should be mutually beneficial and cultivate our abilities to be authentic and generous.
She notes research that shows how friendships can help prevent depression and loneliness, offering the potential to extend our lives by 45%. Community makes us feel whole, and the effects of strong friendships can additionally have positive effects on society.
Children imitate us. I make it a habit to share my gratefulness for my lifelong friendships as well as my new ones with my son, and we have frequent conversations about the traits of a good friendship. I encourage parents to be aware of how our children are friending and support the positive aspects as they can have infinite positive reverberations.
Jill Carstens taught for 30 years and now enjoys writing for this publication! Email her with comments or story ideas at email@example.com.