There are several variables that influence academic achievement. Some are the parents’ level of education (college educated parents tend to be better equipped to help children with academic concepts), the amount of reading materials in the home (the existence of books, magazines and newspapers is often a sign that learning is important), gender (girls tend to do better on reading and writing, while boys perform better on more analytical subjects), presence of positive role models (positive adult role models can help pave the path to achievement by setting standards and expectations) and valuing education (students who see and believe that education is a means to achieve something higher tend to do better in school).
A close, positive friendship is another important influential factor. An article in the Wall Street Journal, “Wanted: A Best Friend,” brought to mind this fascinating concept — one that many educators (myself included) and parents alike often overlook: the relevance of close friendships and how they relate to a child’s success in school.
It isn’t easy making a best friend these days. A number of obstacles can get in the way as kid tries to cultivate strong friendship bonds — aka, a best friend.
Gone are the days of running around the neighborhood with your best buddies until dinnertime. Nearly gone are the tree house hangouts and the baring of souls at slumber parties. There is too much homework and too many electronic alternatives. There is the beckon of pervasive social networks and the changing dynamics of the modern family. And then there is the changing of suburbia itself.
Although the majority of kids tend to meet their best friend at school, school dynamics and cultures are changing. Toward middle and high school, cliques are typically broken up to prevent or combat bullying and classrooms are often shuffled for size and ability. Lunch time is shorter, as is the time between classes.
Many kids have their afternoons packed with programmed activities. According to Fred Frankel, author of “Friends Forever,” daily extracurriculars tend to drain friendships. Although some extracurricular activities allow kids to find companions with common interests, he says that daily after school programming cannot replace the benefits of spending one-on-one time with a best friend.
Social networking, online gaming and texting can help maintain close friendships when close friends are apart, but overall, typical online friendships create mostly superficial friendships.
Millie Ferrer and Anne Fugate in their University of Florida article “The Importance of Friendship for School-Age Children” say close friends are vital to school-age children’s healthy development. Research shows that children who lack friends can suffer emotionally later in life. Friendships are not just playmates — they help children learn social skills, such as how to communicate, cooperate and solve problems. They practice controlling their emotions and responding to the emotions of others. They develop the ability to think through and negotiate different situations that arise in their relationships.
Having a good friend affects a child’s school performance, too. Children tend to have better attitudes about school and learning when they have their good friends there.
Teachers notice the subtle impact of friendships — good students tend to hang out with good students. Grades matter, projects and assignments are always done and achievement is a common thread. The carefree students hang out with other carefree students. Being cool and popular is most important. In this group, doing well in school can even be ridiculed.
So at the beginning of every school year, when I give my “welcome to real world: middle school” talk to my sixth graders, I make it a point to emphasize to them that the friends they chose this year may determine the academic path they take in the years to come. So choose wisely...”
Children are not born with social skills. Parents need to help prepare them to interact successfully with peers. A parent’s love, acceptance and respect for their child help him/her develop the basic trust and self-confidence necessary to go out and develop bonds with others.
Parents are role models who, by their own behavior, can teach children how to meet people and talk to them, to cooperate with others and to ask for favors. Parents can teach how to win or lose well, to apologize and accept apologies and how to be patient, respectful, and considerate. Parents can help their child learn how to be the type of person others like to be around.
Ferrer and Fugate provide some things you can do to promote long lasting friendships for your child:
▪ Provide your child with opportunities to spend time with other children. Invite other children to your house to play or let your child participate in clubs, classes or teams. For older kids, make your home inviting so that your child wants to invite friends over, respect their privacy and provide them with guidelines that will allow them to talk/text with their friends.
▪ Help your child learn games and sports. Being able to play games and sports tends to be important for school-age children. It is easier to join in and have fun if they know the rules and have the basic skills to become a participant. Make sure not to let the sport become a drill or drudgery.