( Originally Published 1916 )
JOHNNY and his friend were chums for many years because they had the same birthday ; and Grace and Gertrude found each other through writing the initial G in the same way. But another little girl with flaxen hair and pale eyes selected her friend because the latter had such nice dark hair and skin and eyes. You may not be so sensitive to color ; yet it was the wearing of a red apron that gave Mabel Henderson a life-long friend. Not that she wore that red apron all her life—that only started the friendship. The fact is that Margaret herself could not have told why she was so attached to her friend.
It takes only a trifle to start an association—a casual meeting on the street corner waiting for a favorable opportunity to cross, being admitted to school on the same day, or being fascinated by a gap in another's row of teeth. But after the beginning is made, almost any two children can learn to like each other fairly well, and the longer they associate, the better they come to understand each other, the more accustomed they become to each other's ways, the harder will it be for them to give each other up. Children's friendships are not deliberate, calculated selections ; they are haphazard growths. They can therefore not be reasoned about to any purpose by the parents, and much less by the children themselves.
If they are accidental in their beginnings and habitual in their continuance, these childhood friendships are nevertheless a source of grave concern to many parents. And Margaret's mother could see in the girl's friend many things that Margaret herself could not see ; and many of them were of a kind that she would rather not have in her daughter's immediate neighborhood. The mother remembered the story that they used to tell the children years ago, about the barrel of good apples with the single rotten apple, and the sad fate of all those good apples. And she feared that Margaret would " catch " all the faults of her friend. That is why she made such heroic efforts to discredit that other young lady in Margaret's estimation. That is why she said things about her daughter's friend that she would not permit anyone to say about her own friends—true or not true. And that is why she failed to wean Margaret from her friend.
For the child of normal sentiments will resent bitterly any aspersions on those he likes. He will not have anyone tell him of his mother's faults, nor will he listen to adverse criticism of his friends. He is not concerned with the truthfulness of your criticism; nor with your good intention in telling him. Every attack upon those he likes is a challenge to his loyalty. And the more you rail against his chum the closer grows the attachment.
A four-year-old boy recently moved into a new neighborhood, and made the acquaintance of a lad of his own age but of a very different set of manners. The mother of the first boy seriously warned him not to associate with Bob because he would be sure to spoil his speech and his manners. Bob used such language; and from time to time he would even spit ! Hector listened reflectively, very much impressed. At last he caught the idea. " Well, mother," he said, " that will be all right. I won't let him make me bad, and I'll make him good instead."
While we all know that one child can " spoil " an-other, we must admit that there was some reason in Hector's reply. Children do influence one another, and the influence for good is just as real and just as effective as the influence for evil. If we fear that on the whole the evil influences prevail, our remedy must not be sought in the isolation of the child, for such isolation is at least as bad as anything that can be acquired from unselected companions. The remedy lies in two directions. On the one hand, the child with an undesirable friend must be encouraged to extend his circle of acquaintances; on the other hand, the influence of the home must be strengthened in the hope of counteracting any evil influences that may emanate from the " bad " friend. One need not be on the look-out for trouble; but if the language used at home is above reproach, the careless speech on the outside may extend the vocabulary without much danger of permanent harm.
There are extreme cases in which it seems important to separate a boy or girl from an undesirable companion. In such cases the surest way of strengthening the affinity is usually to make some show of opposing it. Every attempt to arouse antagonisms only stimuales the mutual interest. These facts must not be taken to indicate that the proper course lies in a series of eulogies in honor of the undesirable one. The first step is to ignore the friendship as completely as possible. Then an effort must be made to substitute new interests for the old friendship, and to reduce the occasions for intercourse as much as circumstances will permit. If the parents will find or make opportunity to take the child out of his usual surroundings in their own company, they will generally find that the new interests will develop simultaneously with the fading of the attachment for the person to be divorced.
The other side of the problem is the encouragement of young people that you consider worthy companions for your children to come into more frequent association with the members of the household. But there is danger in overdoing this also, unless we have exceptional tact and insight. We meddle with fate in any case at our own risk.