Friendship. There’s an old fashioned concept. Friends are integral to our personal narrative; they enable us to chart a course through sometimes choppy times in our lives.
Authors and playwrights through the ages have viewed relations between friends as a gift that keeps on giving as the ups and downs of friendship offer a priceless range of dramatic encounters. And let’s not forget the problematic friendships in the myriad of soaps which wall paper our TV viewing throughout the year.
Yet where does friendship, a cornerstone of our lives, rest in the digital world? In the space of a decade, friendship in the real world is facing a challenge from online activities of “friends” in the virtual world. It seems bizarre that someone unknown, in reality, can have such an impact in the world of flesh and blood. The recent press coverage of two teenagers who for varying reasons decided to take their own lives because of their interaction with the virtual world is both tragic and cautionary.
I wonder whether the blurring in young people’s lives of who lies within their circle of friends is becoming an issue which needs to be addressed more robustly in schools? Of course schools are meticulous in offering advice on safe use of the Internet both to pupils and parents. The dangers of engagement with strangers in the online world are stressed “ad nauseum”.
I should like to suggest a parallel strategy which focuses on valuing friendship with people in the real world. The ever present smartphone and ceaseless text messaging inevitably corrodes the value of the personal engagement with the friend you are meant to be spending time with. Friendships arguably are now framed more loosely and perhaps therefore are in danger of being undervalued.
Schools are perfectly placed to offer a counter balance to the shadowy relationships forged in the ether. Young people today require clearer guidance on the importance of maintaining good relationships with real people. The school community is a microcosm of life and is able to offer a moral framework for young people helping them develop in a positive way, believing in themselves whilst being sympathetic to the needs of others. And most importantly understanding the value of an opinion within a context which is rationale. School life is real life with known individuals and accountability for one’s actions.
I know that so much amazing stuff already happens in schools to foster good relationships and encourage a sense of belonging. Of course there is no government metric to measure well-being. However, anyone working in a school appreciates the importance of individuals being at ease with themselves and those around them. Strong friendships are still being made. My concern is that these real life friendships are not tainted by the “like/unlike” world of the Internet and that young people understand the value of the former and the limitations of the latter.
Who better to offer commentary on the value of friendship in the real world than William Shakespeare:
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”