Time corrupts language. Or, to take a less subjective approach, time modifies language. In either case, I am grateful that the word “friend” has not lost its significance or value since I first learned the word.
When referring to adults as friends, we normally reserve that designation for someone we have known over time. To most of us, friends are much more than acquaintances who know us casually or superficially. A friend has your secrets, promises, dreams and memorable moments.
Change your context and see what magic ensues when you begin calling children friends. The term is entirely uncomplicated to them and they will never question your authority or history for calling them friends. Most of the time, it’s a term that creates care, concern and connection.
The location is irrelevant. When I call my students “friends,” they never wonder why. Happily, they begin to sparkle, asking, “Am I your friend?” as if to wear that word as a crown. Although most students will want the teacher to remember names for eternity, designating them as friends will not cause them to wonder if you’ve forgotten.
By no means do I suggest that you use this terminology with strangers on a bus, in a restaurant or waiting to renew your driver’s license. Adults will generally object to this type of immediate informality. But call a child “friend” and you will acquire and enhance that friend, if only for a brief encounter. Shalom.