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Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children
 
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Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children [Format Kindle]

Michael Thompson Phd , Cathe O'Neill-Grace

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An Invitation to a Birthday Party

My daughter’s twelfth-birthday party was a nightmare, a social train wreck. It was, of course, a sleepover. I still have the photos of the group at breakfast, seated around the dining room table: sluggish, cranky, ready to go home. And I was ready for them to go. There had been moments during the party the night before when I wanted to send them all packing instantly. “Get out,” I wanted to shout. “You’re all mean! You’re all horrible.”

My daughter, Joanna, now sixteen, has long since forgotten that party. It’s ancient history to her; she has moved on with her life. When I reminded her recently of the events of that night, she gave a shrug of acknowledgment and went back to what she was doing. I can’t forget it that easily.

Let me set the scene—time, place, and characters—for the drama. Joanna’s birthday is in late June. That’s a good month for birthdays, close enough to the end of the school year so that most of the kids you might want to invite are still around town. At the same time, late-June birthdays don’t conflict with the inevitable round of end-of-school events. Best of all, the weather is usually good, which means we can hold a swimming party in our backyard, which borders a lake. When Joanna was nine or ten years old all we needed to throw a successful birthday party were some water balloons, a dock for kids to jump off, and of course cake and ice cream. But parties for twelve-year-olds are a lot more complicated than swimming and cake.

My wife, Theresa, and I had a sense of foreboding about the party when we saw Joanna’s guest list. That year our daughter was leaving her public school to go to a private school that offered extensive support for her reading difficulties. Her departure made it inevitable that she was going to lose some friends. Her final social gesture as she left her public school was to invite the entire cool group from her class to her birthday party.

One girl who came to the party was Maria. Maria, like Joanna, was a little different from the mainstream of the class. Her mother was Irish Catholic, her father Korean. They represented an unusual diversity in the town. Maria wasn’t absolutely at the center of the cool group either, but she was eager to be, and we had sensed in the past that Maria felt competitive with Joanna. Therein lies the tale of the birthday party.

Twelve girls arrived over about a forty-minute span: Maria and ten other schoolmates, joined by Joanna’s lifelong friend, Erin-Claire. Erin-Claire is the daughter of dear friends. She has never gone to school with Joanna, but they have known each other since infancy and share a great loyalty. It would be unthinkable for Joanna to have a birthday party without Erin-Claire, and vice versa. E.C., as she is known, occupies a special category in Joanna’s life, that of absolutely trustworthy friend.

Almost as soon as the girls arrived, the political machinations started. There was the usual discomfort and stiffness that afflicts most parties—child and adult—at the start. But there was more than just ice-breaking discomfort here. An invisible divider was up.

The wall crystallized when the girls were shown two adjoining rooms, Joanna’s bedroom and the guest room. Maria immediately began to designate which girls should sleep in which room. Naturally, she picked the four coolest girls and said that they would be with her in the guest room. The girls obediently dropped their sleeping bags and backpacks where Maria told them to.

While Maria was upstairs orchestrating the sleeping arrangements, Joanna was downstairs trying to organize some games. The party was slowly beginning to warm up. Girls were swimming, jumping off the dock, and talking. The water balloons were clearly not going to fly. Twelve-year-olds considered themselves too old for those, it seemed, even though Joanna had wanted them. To her it was a tradition. I worried that my daughter’s tastes weren’t sufficiently sophisticated for this twelve- year-old crowd.

Then word filtered downstairs about Maria’s management of the sleeping arrangements. Joanna immediately felt hurt. She began to feel attacked and aggrieved. She physically moved away from the rest of the group. E.C. sat with her. The rest of the girls were uncomfortable. Clearly no one knew how to take the lead in either stopping Maria or reaching out to Joanna. The in-group, including Maria, who had come outside, gathered together more tightly. Joanna and E.C. became a separate group of two. Joanna cried a bit, displayed some anger, and talked with E.C. She was clearly very sad, and E.C. was being a steadfast friend to her.

This went on for about half an hour or more, but it seemed much longer. I watched the scene with intense dismay and a sense of helplessness. I had heard what Maria was doing, but I hadn’t known how to intervene when I was upstairs. I saw that Maria, for some unhappy reason, felt compelled to take over the sleeping arrangements.

What happened next was quite wonderful. Joanna had insisted that we buy cans of shaving cream when we shopped for the water balloons. She had seen some boys squirting shaving cream all over one another during a celebration in our town and she had been entranced with their freedom—as well as a bit disappointed that girls apparently weren’t allowed to do that sort of thing in public. For her birthday she had wanted the possibility of shaving cream attacks.

Joanna and E.C. began to squirt shaving cream at one another. They started small, working their way up until they were covered from head to toe, hair included. All the other girls, who were hanging out by the edge of the lake, turned to watch and soon signaled that they too wanted to join the action. Joanna and E.C. each picked up a can of shaving cream and began squirting the other girls. I grabbed the camera and snapped pictures. It turned into a free-for-all—and the party was suddenly working. The best thing about it was that all the girls started to seem like girls again, carefree and innocent. Gone, for the moment, was the poisonous political atmosphere. There were only laughing girls covered with shaving cream, creating wild masks and hairdos with the foam all over their heads.

The party proceeded cheerfully for three more hours. The meat-eaters ate hot dogs and hamburgers; the vegetarians ate salad and chips. Things seemed so peaceful that I was unprepared when I heard shouting and weeping coming from the front stairwell. I ran in, and there stood Maria, angry, defiant, and shrieking denials at Joanna: “I didn’t do anything. It’s your problem!” And then Maria burst into a fury of tears.

Apparently, because of her social success with the shaving cream as well as the steadfast support of her friend E.C., Joanna had recovered enough confidence to confront Maria and accuse her of trying to wreck her birthday party.

Theresa took Maria aside to talk with her, and out poured a story of social misery. Maria felt genuinely overwhelmed by Joanna’s accusation and proclaimed herself innocent of any malicious intent. She hadn’t done anything, she sobbed; she had just wanted to be sure that she had friends to sleep next to at the sleep-over. Maybe nobody liked her, maybe she ought to go home right then.

In my mind Maria had been a power-hungry villain who tried to take over the party from a less socially powerful and more vulnerable Joanna. But it turned out that the “villain” was just another insecure middle schooler. Her “victim,” meanwhile, had made a powerful stand of open confrontation.

As Theresa talked to Maria I talked with Joanna, who was accompanied by E.C. (They were inseparable at this point.) Joanna was totally charged up with anger at Maria and even more furious because Maria’s outburst had seemed so manipulative. Joanna wanted a full confession and retraction from Maria.

There was no resolution. Despite our intervention—and we went as far as having them face one another and say they were sorry—Maria and Joanna sulked and avoided each other the rest of the night. The party ground on unhappily with videos, many more chips, and finally the mandatory very late bedtime. The next morning everyone was exhausted and very relieved to be going home. I don’t think that we were the first parents on earth to watch the departing backs of children leaving a birthday party and think, “Thank God we don’t have to do this again until next year.”

Was it so uniquely horrible? Was my daughter damaged? The answer to these questions is no. I took you home with me to this terrible birthday party because this one event allows us to see all of the strands in a child’s social world, the subject of this book. It’s all there: devoted friendships, battles over popularity, parental anguish over social cruelty. These are the themes that we will be returning to again and again in this book. The social lives of children are a complex interplay of the group and the individual, of cliques and status hierarchies, of the sustaining loyalty of a friend to a friend. And the birthday party offers a particularly vivid lesson in the difference between social popularity and true friendship.

All parents experience pain about their children’s social lives. There is no escaping it. A mother agonizes over her child’s social dilemmas. A father immediately assesses whether his son or daughter is well received by a group of children. (And he’s likely to register where his son ranks athletically compared to other boys.) We are social animals, and all of us are able to read the social reactions and strengths of others. Parents beam with pleasure at their child’s successes and writhe with anguish over their failures.

Being a parent means feeling helpless a lot of the time: helpless to give your child the reading...

Revue de presse

"The stories in this book come from many perspectives — those of therapists, educators, and parents. The wise, kind authors give us a fresh cogent analysis of this critically important issue. I recommend BEST FRIENDS, WORST ENEMIES to all those who work with and love kids."

— Mary Pipher, Ph.D., author of REVIVING OPHELIA


From the Hardcover edition.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 étoiles sur 5  24 commentaires
48 internautes sur 50 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Richness of Connection and How to Make It Work for Children 21 septembre 2001
Par Donald Mitchell - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
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!
38 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Thought-provoking 28 janvier 2002
Par Laure Chipman - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This book has been a help in understanding my five-year-old's peer relationships, and is thought-provoking even for non-parents. I found the book well-organized and well-written. It helps make sense of children's behavior in terms of their needs for "connection, recognition, and power." It points out that children balance these three needs. Soon after reading this book, my son provided a stunningly concrete example of this. He and his friend had drawn chalk "tornado spinners" on the driveway. My son said, "My tornado spinner is more powerful than yours, because it's bigger." The other boy quietly said, "I'm not sure if I want to be friends with you any more." My son said, "OK, OK, they're the same power." The need for connection had won over the need for power and recognition.
There are some helpful hints to be gleaned from the book as well. Here's one I related to. Often, if a child has a problem at school with another child one day, the parent will tend to ask the child on the following day, "So, how did it go with Johnny today?" Your child, meanwhile, had forgotten all about the problem, but your comment provokes a "come to think of it..." reaction, causing the child to continue to dredge up negatives.
The book divides children into "accepted," "rejected," and "neglected" types, to describe how their peers treat them. I fell squarely into the "neglected" category, which I think explains my lack of understanding of the "need to belong" that so many people feel -- I wasn't really "in the game."
The authors mention a fascinating psychological experiment dealing with the need to belong. The subject was put into a group of people, and all were supposed to look at several pairs of lines and tell which was the longer line: A or B. The members of the group were told in advance to lie in one case, and say that Line B was longer. Two out of three subjects went along with the group, and also said that Line B was longer! I was truly stunned by this result -- it explains a lot about the dark side of human behavior. One of the authors asked a group of children why they thought the subject went along with the group, and she said, "He wanted to be in the 'B-Line Club'." The authors avoid any moral denunciation of this kind of follow-the-group behavior, apparently feeling it wouldn't be appropriate in a book on psychology.
I highly recommend this book. I found it useful, and also just plain intrinsically interesting.
31 internautes sur 34 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Disappointing 11 juin 2009
Par Seattle reader - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
This book could have used an editor, or a better one. I found it much too wordy: he says in 4 paragraphs what was already clear in the first paragraph. I felt that he was explaining issues to about a 6th grade level person.

I was less interested in the theory in the abstract and would have appreciated more suggestions for parental action (or inaction) in each chapter. Instead, the "What parents can do" chapter was stuck onto the end of the book like an afterthought, and read like an article in O..."10 things you can do". The one part of the book that was brief, and it was the part I had hoped to be in-depth.

Finally, I thought the author put a lot of weight on the parents' impact on a child's personality. Obviously there is a huge influence, but there was little mention of temperament. It was just: "Johnny's quiet, and when you meet his Dad, he's quiet, too." And some examples were more accusatory: the mother is not socially skilled, so no wonder the child isn't. There are lots of kids struggling who are just that way. I don't care if he blames me as a mother, but why I think this misses the boat is that it portrays only the weak side of the child's personality and poses it as a problem...no mention that this can be the way the child is wired and that there are associated strengths. I think that knowledge affects a parent's ability to accept a child who is "different" and support him/her in their strengths and help them offset their weaknesses to minimize the negative impact of the weakness on their life.

I was looking forward to reading this book, and found it very disappointing.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 AN INSIGHTFUL LOOK AT CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT! 12 septembre 2001
Par Sandra D. Peters - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
There are few things more disheartening than tales of bullying or watching your child be emotionally hurt by other children. The thoughtless teacher who allows other children to choose their team mates in activities can emotionally devestate a child who is chosen last. The child who is continually being physically threatened and tormented can leave a child in absolute terror of going to school. A birthday party that is eagerly anticipated by your child only to find that one, if anyone, actually shows up for the event is heartbreaking. As children, most of us have experienced at least one of these horrific experiences, but when it happens to your own child, it can be equally as traumatic for the parent as the child. The hurt and devestation can magnify if the child is low on self-confidence and self-esteem in the first place.
As a counsellor, I found this book gave an insightful outlook and delivers support to parents whose child is a victim of vicious, reandom acts of physical and emotional cruelty by their peers. Families today come is all structures and sizes, but regardless of whether it is a one parent or two parent family, one of the best actions a parent can take is to ensure there child is raised in a loving, nurturing, understanding, encouraging family environment. This helps boost self-esteem, confidence and emotional strength. For any parent who feels their child is the victim of random acts of cruelty by others, this book will provide a clearer understanding of the ways this situation can be handled. It is an excellent book and highly recommended reading.
26 internautes sur 29 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Shows how parents can understand and help children socially 19 février 2002
Par Kcorn - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
After watching a feature documentary on the power of social relationships to shape a child's life into adulthood, I was already interested in learning more. This book filled the bill, especially the sections which revealed how children use power (and even bullying) to both include some children and exclude others. I think most of us remember the playground bullies but what this book did was show how parents can help to change bullying behavior, give their children skills to handle bullies and lessen the damaging effects of their behavior.
This book focuses on far more than bullies and those who purchase it will find it filled with rich insights into the social world of children and how they view their friendships and connections with other children.
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