Like most parents, I want my kids to have friends. Friendships help us to become better people and they make our experiences, both good and bad, memorable and worth having. Having friends also helps us develop empathy and other vital social skills.
That being said, making (and keeping) friends is hard work. Helping my own kids, as well as my students, navigate their social world is a task that continually forces me to learn how they interact with one another. As they get older, I am finding that the conversations we have about friendships are becoming more challenging, but they are also becoming more valuable. Helping them work their way through various social situations can be difficult, but it can also allow for positive conversation and reinforcement.
The Proximity Factor
When we are very young, it is easy to navigate our social world because it exists solely in the space we are in. At early ages, friends are simply assigned due to proximity and therefore we don’t really have much choice in who our “friends” are. Neighbours of similar ages, daycare/pre-school kids, and sport or activity groups are basically the extent of our friendship options.
While the proximity factor is great in ensuring we always have other kids to interact with, it doesn’t automatically lead to deep and meaningful friendships. It also doesn’t last very long. As we get to be school age, we soon find ourselves in an environment with more people and therefore more possibilities for friendship.
While this is an exciting time for us, it is also the beginning of our seemingly never ending struggle with our social world. As early as kindergarten, we are inundated with choices, questions, and decisions all pertaining to our social obligations. Kids go to school to learn, sure, but one could argue that their interactions with others plays more of a role in their cognitive growth than any other aspect of school.
The Three Types of Friends
When problems arise, and they most definitely will, I have found that it is important to have conversations with my kids about what they want out of their friendships. These are tough conversations to have because in order for them to be effective, we have to be able to look at both sides of the situation. Simply expecting the other party to conform and adapt to us will not help our situation. Sometimes it’s hard to accept the fact that our kids are contributing to negative social interactions, but by acknowledging that friendship is a two way street, we can begin to show our children how true friendships work.
These conversations can also be helpful in identifying the types of friendships our kids are experiencing. According to Aristotle, we will all encounter three types of friends throughout our lives. As we talk to our kids, it doesn’t take long to see that these types of friendships already exist in their lives.
Friendship of Utility
The first type of friendship that we experience is known as Friendship of Utility. These types of friendships exist on the benefits that each person brings to the relationship. For example, kids may be friends with someone at school because they help them with math or they show them how to use a computer program.
In adults, it may take the form of someone who helps you with your home repairs or someone who you split lunch runs with at work. While Utility Friendships are important in our day to day life, they are often the easiest friendships to fall apart due to unreciprocated favours or differing expectations amongst involved parties. These types of friendships can grow into something more, but they usually exist to serve the needs of the individual, and therefore tend to break down after some time.
Friendship of Pleasure
The second type of friendship outlined by Aristotle is known as Friendship of Pleasure. This type of friendship is based enjoyment shared through activity.
For adults, think of your weekly softball team or gym dates with colleagues from work. For kids, it’s probably hockey friends, video game buddies, or any other organized group activity. These friendships tend to grow from a shared interest in a particular activity.
These types of relationships can definitely last for years, however, they don’t often grow into anything deep or meaningful simply because the focus tends to always be on the activity.
I played softball for years, and I truly enjoyed hanging out with the team before and after games. But due to softball being the glue that held the group together, those friendships never really grew beyond the activity.
Friendship of the Good
The last, and most impactful type of friendship identified by Aristotle is known as Friendship of the Good. These types of relationships take a lot longer to develop and they require a little more work to maintain, but they are far and away the most important ones we will experience.
Friendships of the Good are based on admiration for one another, and that admiration usually comes from the realization that both parties share similar morals and values. We tend to want to work on these types of friendships because we value the other person and we want them to admire us as much as we do them. These are our so called “friends for life” and they are the ones with whom we share the most important parts of ourselves
The Friendship Survey
While I find this type of thing fascinating, I’m aware that talking with my kids about Aristotle’s Friendship Theory is a great way for them to stop wanting to be friends with me. So as a workaround, I created a little survey for them to do every once in a while that allows them to identify the positive aspects of their current friendships. They get to acknowledge their relationships and identify the positive things about them, and I can see what they value in their interactions with their friends.
As with anything, the survey simply allows us to have conversations about topics that are important to them. We can talk about what they would like in a friend, but also discuss their role in the relationship and how they can impact it with their words and actions.