Remember your best friend from childhood?

That person who got your jokes, shared your secrets, would play your favorite games for hours, and was there with you through the ups and downs of life. Sometimes, having just that one friend made all the difference between feeling lonely and feeling connected.

Dan Kriz wants every child to have that experience. As a pediatric neuropsychologist at St. Charles medical group in Bend, he has a deep understanding of the impact that a friend can have on a child or teen. Friendships boost self-esteem, confidence, and resilience as they grow up. At the same time, he knows that forming and navigating friendships can be more challenging for some kids. Those challenges can stem from a wide variety of reasons, including IDD and autism.

“Even just one friend can make life better during the childhood or teenage years. Friendship — feeling accepted — improves quality of life. Loneliness can lead to low self worth, depression or anxiety. Yet sometimes finding a friend doesn’t happen easily, and requires intentional action,” said Kriz. Kids often become friends through sports teams, or on the playground, Kriz explained, but those channels don’t work for everyone. So Kriz decided to develop a new model that would make it easier for kids and teens to form friendships

 

Friendometry: An online channel for real-life friendships

Kriz worked with his friend and co-founder, Tucker Lemm, to develop a practical tool to combat childhood loneliness. Their goal was to create an online service where parents could connect, and find other kids with similar interests and personalities, who live nearby and who match in age (the ages range from three to seventeen years old.) Their website, Friendometry, began by connecting new friends in Oregon, and is now growing to include users nationwide (and a few international families as well!).

Friendometry is different from other sites where people meet and connect, because the parents are in control of who the kids meet. For safety reasons, kids and teens do not use the site to meet or communicate with each other. “The website is strictly for parents to use to connect with other parents of similar kids. If both sets of parents agree that their kids may be a good match, they set up a time to get together in real life. Often the parents then also become friends, but the primary goal is to connect the kids,” said Kriz.

The process starts with a Friendometry account, where parents describe their child’s strengths, interests, personality, and their geographic area. The questionnaire is strength-based, with no need for details on a specific disability. The parents then can search for a potential friend match by specific interests, age, and location. For example, they could search for a high school age girl who loves animals and lives in Redmond. The accounts are anonymous until both groups choose to connect. Once both families agree to meet, they share contact information and plan a time to get the kids together. The website also offers tips on activities and ways to develop friendships.

 

Growing the Friendometry platform

Friendometry is simply another tool available to parents, according to Kriz. “The thing that makes Friendometry efficient is that the parents are all there for the same reason. Everyone on the site wants their child to meet other kids that could become friends,” said Kriz.

A year membership to Friendology has a fee of $19.99, which covers the cost of maintaining the website. The membership fee serves another purpose as well, by authenticating the users as real people. However, Kriz received grant funding which can cover membership costs if needed (simply type the word ADMIN into the discount box on the membership application). Friendology members in Central Oregon receive a $25 prepaid credit card, intended to cover costs of an outing or activity with new friends. Just use the discount code FRIENDS, and the card will be mailed.

Nationwide, Friendometry has about 5000 users; over 50 users live in Central Oregon, with more joining daily. Friendometry offered an important social outlet for kids at home during the pandemic. Location made little difference then, and more long-distance friendships were formed between kids who shared a love of interactive online games like Roblox. Now that in-person social gatherings have  returned, most users seek friends located in their town.

As Kirz noted, the key is for parents to actively reach out to make connections for their kids. “Whether or not Friendometry works for them, my hope is it will jumpstart their motivation to take the next step and find that friend for their child,” he said.

Kriz and Lemm may expand the Friendometry concept to an older audience, but currently only children up to age seventeen are accepted into the program. Most transition students in Central Oregon are between eighteen and twenty-one years old, beyond the age limit for using Friendology. However, sharing this resource with parents, siblings, or younger students they know may help others make a good connection.

Photo courtesy of Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash