CBS News contributor and child psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein appeared on "The Early Show" Monday with Erica Hill to discuss the debate of whether having an exclusive best friend is detrimental to your child's development.
When it comes to breaking up exclusive best friend relationships, Hartstein said, "There is something to be said for encouraging kids to broaden their friendship base. With more friends on whom to rely, they have less change of being disappointed by their friends...if this one can't do something, there is always someone else to ask. The hope is that kids will be more open to others who are different and that cliques will be diminished."
But having a bigger group of friends can often backfire, Hartstein said. Sometimes when it comes to bigger groups of kids, the chances of gossip are more likely. So while you might not want your child to place all their eggs in one basket, it may still be a bad idea to police their relationships.
Kids are drawn to other kids with similar likes and dislikes. The forming of groups is a natural act, and comes along with human nature.
"Forcing them not to have one best friend does not prepare them fully for later relationships and can make them question their own judgment," said Hartstein. "The only way to really know what a good relationship is, is to make mistakes in many relationships along the way."
But those in favor of breaking up exclusive best friend relationships say it has a lot to do with the discouragement of bullying. But Hartstein said that all kids will be bullied to some extent at a given point, there will always be someone stronger who picks on someone weaker. But the main difference now because of technology, is that bullies often hide in cyber space, so a child may or may not know who is actually bullying them.
While it is important to teach your child to be open to all kinds of different friendships with different kids, Hartstein says it is unreasonable to expect a child to be friends with everyone.
"You can force your kids to invite their entire class to their birthday party, but are they really going to be happy about it?" said Hartstein. "How is your child going to make serious friendships and learn about mature relationships if you are forcing them to make friends with everyone? And even when you force cliques to be larger, the three will shun the fourth, or the four will shun the fifth."
It is understandable to want to protect your child from getting their feelings hurt or that ultimate devastation when a friendship fails, But no matter what, whether it's with a best friend or a clique of friends, at some point, kids are going to be devastated, it's part of being a kid.
"If you leave your child alone to choose and maintain their own friendships, they can learn how to choose people they like, how to handle disappointment," said Hartstein. "At some point, kids are going to be betrayed by their friends -- whether it's five or one. You cannot protect a child from devastation. There is no guarantee that any friendships are going to last, or that any one friendship will be healthier than the others."
As for breaking up exclusive friendships, there is no clear-cut answer. Parents should support their children when it comes to who they want to spend their time with on play dates or during school activities.
Hartstein said, "Kids should be encouraged to be kids...they should be encouraged to make friends with as many others as they can and choose the ones they really like to spend time with."
Children will be happier and feel better about themselves if they can spend time with a variety of others, but out of the large group, they most likely will pick one or two "best" friends, which ultimately is not a bad thing.
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