This book deserves many more than five stars for its careful, thoughtful, and detailed look at how children develop their social lives. Like all remarkable books, it will extend your understanding beyond your personal life experiences and provide simple, common sense guidelines for achieving outstanding results. If you only read one book this year about improving the social life of your child, make it this one!
Every book I read about the psychological problems of youngsters focuses on the forms of social exclusion and bullying that typically occur in schools and neighborhoods. Best Friends, Worst Enemies takes that as the starting point, explains what causes the social exclusion and bullying, and details what schools and parents can do to eliminate it.
Social connection between children begins at a younger age than most people believe. The book details videotaped studies of infants watching and connecting with each other. Then, step-by-step, the authors show you how social interaction develops from those early months through to dating. I was particularly impressed by the conceptual description of youngsters being assigned a place versus the in group (in or out, and high or low status in that role). Although I could not articulate it, that certainly captures my recollection of those painful teenage years.
The use of animal studies is persuasive for the ways that humans often behave. I found myself chuckling over the descriptions of Alpha male and Queen Bee female behaviors.
The best part of the book is that it points out that exclusion is bad for those who do it, as well as for those who suffer from it. So all parents and all youngsters should be concerned.
The book avoids being too technical about psychological concepts. Everything described is built around the common human needs for connection, recognition, and power.
The section about how to improve schools was very sensitively done. It pointed out that teachers almost always know what's going on, but don't always know what to do about it. The many ideas for mixing the young people up and giving them all a chance to shine will, I'm sure, make many teachers enjoy their work more and help more students. I especially liked the idea of having a counselor meet with the kids who have trouble reading social clues, and helping them discuss and learn from each other how to connect. The idea of having high-status kids mentor low-status kids over the summer was also appealing.
Parents will have a tougher job to follow the advice here. You need to set a better example, and not be exclusionary in your own life . . . not gossip about others behind their backs . . . and help opens doors for your shy and excluded, or popular and obnoxious youngster. But, it's good advice . . . if you have what it takes to follow the advice.
Ask yourself at least once a day: How can I help someone feel included and appreciated today? Then, act!