Prince George can't have a best friend – should your child?

Experts sound in on the pros and cons of best friends at school.
(Credit: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)

If the future King of England can't have a best friend, should your child?

Depends on who you ask.

The question comes after news last month that Prince George will attend Thomas's Battersea prep school in London come September. Everything royal-related seems to make headlines, but this announcement was unique because of a controversial unofficial policy at the school: no best friends.

"You can get very possessive friendships, and it is much easier if they share friendships and have a wide range of good friends rather than obsessing too much about who their best friend is," Thomas's Battersea headmaster Ben Thomas told The Telegraph in 2013. "I would certainly endorse a policy which says we should have lots of good friends, not a best friend."

The unwritten policy is meant to discourage bullying and encourage inclusivity, said Thomas.

But parenting experts in Canada question if such a ban would be effective, saying it's normal for kids to have best friends and there's little or no evidence showing banning best friends stops bullying. Such restrictive policies are symptomatic of today's helicopter parenting culture, they say.

"I don't see the value in a policy banning best friends," said Michele Kambolis, a child and family therapist based in Vancouver and author of Generation Stressed: Play-Based Tools to Help your Child Overcome Anxiety. "It's natural for some children to want a best friend and for many, it's a rite of passage."

Kambolis said a child having someone they call a best friend is a way of communicating a special bond, similar to a teenager calling someone their boyfriend or girlfriend.

"Our deepest instinctual desire is to have a sense of connection, attachment, bond, with other human beings," she said, noting those relationships are often first built between children and their parents. "It's what makes us most human."

As for preventing bullying and cliquey behaviour, Kambolis said there's no scientific evidence documenting a link between having a best friend and increased rates of bullying. She notes bullying can happen within best friendships just as it can happen in any other relationship.

She points to overparenting for why policies like this might exist.

"We live in a culture of overparenting where we're afraid to allow our children to have experiences," she said. "(Conflict) is real life and it's natural, and getting in the way of natural bonds and friendships is another form of overparenting."

But parenting expert Alyson Schafer says criticism of the school's stance may be misguided.

"I just think that maybe it got a little misinterpreted about what they're trying to do," said Toronto-based Schafer, author of Honey, I Wrecked the Kids. "My guess is that they are trying to promote one of the values they want to teach at an early age…inclusiveness."

Schafer said the school is likely trying to push children to get to know others whom they might not immediately form bonds with. She applauds the school for recognizing that cliques, bullying and social exclusion can happen as early as age four.

But an actual "best friend ban" would be contradictory to the values they're trying to enforce, she said.

"How would you say, 'Don't like that person,' while still holding (up) the value of inclusivity?" she said.

Ultimately, Schafer thinks children should be allowed to learn lessons of rejection and exclusion on their own but in a safe, adult-supervised environment.

"One of the ways you learn to be inclusive is when you get rejected," she said. "You say 'ouch, that didn't feel good.'"

"You don't teach the lesson by avoiding the pain, you teach the lesson by having the pain."

Katrina Clarke is a Vancouver- and Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. You can find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.