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Blog: Thursday, February 1st, 2018

The Importance of Best Friends

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

If my friend Phil knew that I was making a blog post about him, he would be mortified. But after I explained why I was doing this, I think he would understand and would be okay with it. Phil is my oldest and one of my best friends, and I have known him since 1977, when we met, of all places, in the starting blocks of a 100 m sprint final at the district elementary track meet in Vancouver. What created the connection was that as we prepared for the starting gun, both of us promptly removed our shoes, which we both believed were encumbrances to top speed. We later acknowledged that running barefooted was perhaps a third world phenomena, as we also learned that we were recent immigrants to Canada: his family from Malaysia, and mine from Jamaica. We have been friends ever since (He still swears that he won the race, but I am pretty sure that I did).

As fate would have it, after attending elementary schools in different parts of the city, we ended up in the same home room (Mr. Pellegrin’s class, if I recall correctly) in high school, where we stayed for the next five years. And while there were times that we did not hang out much, over the course of time, we still became stronger friends.  By the time I was in grade 12, we hung out with entirely different crowds, but it just did not matter when we were together. We went on different paths after graduation. Phil had had enough of school, and I went off to university. While a change like that often spells the end of a friendship, this was not the case for us; we stayed connected.  We both got married about the same time. My wife and I moved to Dawson Creek, he and his wife stayed in Lower Mainland, but we still stayed connected. We had kids at about the same time (though he ended up with five compared to our two). And over the years helped each other through some tough times. I will not embarrass my buddy further, so I will cut a long story short by saying that the bonds of friendship have been significant for the both of us.  We continue to see each other, and our friendship is as strong as ever. 

The reason I share this is two-fold. Firstly, I recently came across which spoke about the fundamental importance of long term and strong friendships in the lives of children, adolescents in particular. The research said that the bonds of friendship have a significant role in a child’s mental health, not just in adolescence, but into adulthood. The researchers followed 170 students for 10 years, starting when they were 15 years old. The participants were asked to bring in their closest friends, who were interviewed about the nature of the friendship. They also observed their interactions, and assessed their levels of anxiety, depression and self-worth.  One of the key findings of the study was that students who had close, stable emotional links with a friend showed improvement in their levels of anxiety, depression and self-worth over time. In other words, they reported less depression and anxiety and more self-worth at 25 than they had at 15. Fascinating.

The second reason I surfaced this is because, as some of you know, this is #LetsTalk Week, which is a national campaign focused on improving awareness about mental illness.  I will not for a minute try to explain exactly how it works, but I think it is safe to say that close, stable and positive friendships are a protective factor against the assaults to your mental well-being. If you think about the challenges that typically face the average adolescent, it is not hard to imagine how helpful positive peer influence can be. Having someone that you can trust and be vulnerable with is not just protective, but is also enabling. Think about the skills a teenager uses as they successfully work through a difficult social situation with a trusted friend. Imagine the confidence that this builds.

It is troubling to hear about and see the issues students have with anxiety these days, and while I will not minimize these issues in any way, I wonder just how much of this would be helped by ensuring that every child in our care had a best friend? I can tell you that it made a world of difference for me.

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.