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Editorial: Marking the quality of friendship


Quality friendship in children's lives is an important measure of growth.



Marking the quality of friendship

Last night our son's friend called him from her summer hiking adventure halfway around the world. She's already at 12,000+ feet, heading for even higher elevations. She's carrying a backpack that's about as heavy as she is, and she knew only one of the other travelers before she departed.

I listened to only a bit of our son's half of the conversation—long enough to hear the excitement and concern in his voice—but I heard more details this morning. He had asked all the right questions: He found out that she's having a wonderful time, that she very much likes her fellow travelers, and that she's short of breath because of the altitude but hasn't vomited or had any headaches. There are political concerns to worry about in the country, but she's taking appropriate precautions.

Our son and his friend are 16 years old. As I listened to him recount his conversation, I thought about how many friendships and conversations had prepared them for this one, and how this one will prepare them for those that follow. Each important relationship—with other toddlers in day care, with kindergarten classmates learning to take turns and share, and with middle school friends recognizing similar interests and personalities—has contributed to their understanding of friendship. They know now that their relationship incorporates empathy and responsibility. It includes loyalty and trust and, sometimes, even a language that no one else shares.

Personal experience tells us that friendships are important at all stages of life. They help us define ourselves and understand our own power as individuals, and they provide emotional support. They teach us that the very best relationships depend on accepting responsibility for and taking an interest in the happiness and well-being of another person. All that is important—first for friendship and, later, for deeper commitments of family and parenthood.

Like most families, we have a wall in our home on which we marked our children's height as they grew. We haven't consciously noted growth in the quality of their friendships, but I feel certain that our son's conversation on the telephone last night was a more important indicator of his growth than any mark on that wall.


Julia A. McMillan, MD, editor-in-chief of Contemporary Pediatrics, is professor of pediatrics, vice chair for pediatric education, and director of the residency training program, Johns Hopkins University Medical School, Baltimore.


Julia McMillan. Editorial: Marking the quality of friendship. Contemporary Pediatrics 2001;8:9.

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