Popping up at schools all over the country, buddy benches offer kids a way to signal to one another that they would like someone to talk or play with.

By Maressa Brown
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Whether a child is the most social butterfly of her or his elementary school class or has a tougher time making friends, recess can set up a variety of self-esteem issues for kids. After all, the social, active time isn't exactly cut out for those who want to hang out on their own—or feel as though they are stuck doing so. That's just one of many reasons that a phenomenon called the "buddy bench" is rising in popularity around the country. On May 1, 2019, the Girl Scouts of the USA Instagram account shared a shot of a Girl Scout named Ariana who bought one for her school. 

The caption reads: "Girl Scout Ariana used the money she raised selling cookies to buy a Buddy Bench and donate it to her school. What is a Buddy Bench, you ask? Children can decide to sit on a Buddy Bench during playtime, which signals to other children that they would like someone to talk to or play with. It's a piece of playground furniture that has the power to promote inclusion and empathy."

Where the Idea of a 'Buddy Bench' Originated 

Ariana isn't the first kid to bring a buddy bench to her school. Back in 2013, a first grader named Christian, whose family was considering a move to Germany, learned about the phenomenon from a school overseas. He proposed having a buddy bench installed at his school, Roundtown Elementary, and it was approved by the school board.

Christian's story inspired other kids, like a Girl Scout troop in Kalamazoo, Michigan who raised money for one via cookie sales in 2014. At the time, troop leader Rachel Shank told the Kalamazoo Gazette: "This is for students who can’t find a friend to play with for a variety of reasons or students who are being bullied or don’t want to play whatever their friends are playing."

The Pros and Cons of a Buddy Bench 

Carole Lieberman, MD, psychiatrist and author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror tells Parents.com that there really is a case for the trend. "Kids need buddies more than ever because their world is more confusing than ever, and they want someone to talk to about it," she says. "Some kids are left out of cliques at school, and some are even bullied." For that reason, Dr. Lieberman feels the buddy bench is an "ingenious invention—if it is monitored by a teacher or a student who has been given this responsibility."

But supervision of the bench is key, because "sometimes bullies can take advantage of the vulnerability of the kid who sits down hoping to make a friend," Dr. Lieberman notes. "It could be tempting for bullies to make fun of them. Another reason it has to be monitored is for the kid who sits down and nobody comes to sit next to them. If a teacher, or student who’s been made responsible for watching the buddy bench, sees this, they can sit down themselves or call another kid over who is friendly and might be willing to sit down."

How a Buddy Bench Can Benefit the Whole Community

Shari L. Camhi, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools, Baldwin School District in New York agrees that buddy benches offer shy kids a "neutral space, where those who are more outgoing are free to befriend peers who are less inclined to initiate a relationship."

They're also representative of a greater community-wide effort to promote kindness in Dr. Camhi's opinion. "Parents and educators should encourage our children to reach out to those peers who might need a helping hand," she notes. "Not everyone is outgoing, but we should always give others the benefit of the doubt. Reaching out to others and embracing diversity and difference is what makes us special. Adults need to be the role models. Encouraging schools, community organizations and public playgrounds to incorporate 'buddy benches' inspires positive social emotional development."

If you're interested in bringing a buddy bench to your child's school, check out tips on BuddyBench.org

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