Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children

Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children

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Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson, Cathe O'Neill-Grace

Friends broaden our children’s horizons, share their joys and secrets, and accompany them on their journeys into ever wider worlds. But friends can also gossip and betray, tease and exclude. Children can cause untold suffering, not only for their peers but for parents as well. In this wise and insightful book, psychologist Michael Thompson, Ph.D., and children’s book author Catherine O’Neill Grace, illuminate the crucial and often hidden role that friendship plays in the lives of children from birth through adolescence.

Drawing on fascinating new research as well as their own extensive experience in schools, Thompson and Grace demonstrate that children’s friendships begin early–in infancy–and run exceptionally deep in intensity and loyalty. As children grow, their friendships become more complex and layered but also more emotionally fraught, marked by both extraordinary intimacy and bewildering cruelty. As parents, we watch, and often live through vicariously, the tumult that our children experience as they encounter the “cool” crowd, shifting alliances, bullies, and disloyal best friends.

Best Friends, Worst Enemies brings to life the drama of childhood relationships, guiding parents to a deeper understanding of the motives and meanings of social behavior. Here you will find penetrating discussions of the difference between friendship and popularity, how boys and girls deal in unique ways with intimacy and commitment, whether all kids need a best friend, why cliques form and what you can do about them.

Filled with anecdotes that ring amazingly true to life, Best Friends, Worst Enemies probes the magic and the heartbreak that all children experience with their friends. Parents, teachers, counselors–indeed anyone who cares about children–will find this an eye-opening and wonderfully affirming book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345449450
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/24/2001
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 541,467
File size: 419 KB

About the Author

Michael Thompson, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, lecturer, consultant and former seventh grade teacher. He conducts workshops on the development of boys and social cruelty in childhood for both public and private schools across the United States. He is the author of Speaking of Boys and coauthor, with Dan Kindlon, Ph.D., of The New York Times bestseller Raising Cain. The father of a daughter and a son, he and his wife observe children’s friendships from their home in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Catherine O’Neill Grace, a writer and editor, is a former elementary, middle, and high school teacher, and was the editor of Independent School magazine. She wrote a column for young readers about health and psychology in The Washington Post for fifteen years, and is the author of numerous nonfiction books for children. She and her husband, a headmaster, live on the campus of a boarding school near Boston.

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Best Friends, Worst Enemies 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Busy__Mom More than 1 year ago
This book prompted me to take a closer look at my child's interaction with other kids and take notice of the patterns that are forming. Very interesting and important information for all parents. I saw the summary for this book on ParentsDigest and wanted to learn more - so glad I did. Great book.
ParentsDigest_Pam More than 1 year ago
While most books I have read on children social behavior have been simply generic, Best Friends, Worst Enemies was a very detailed explanation on the social behavior of children today, and the aspects of school that form their social lives.

No time to read the whole book? Check out the 8 page summary at
Guest More than 1 year ago
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! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution