Social Cliques and Their Grip on Adolescence

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By definition, a clique unites around some shared values or characteristics that allows members to distinguish themselves from others. Most cliques are centered around exclusion, an us versus them mentality, or a "we are not they, and they are not us" perspective.

Cliques in Middle School

When are cliques most defining? At the most vulnerable age in a child's development— adolescence. The early (pre) teenage years are defined by an increased separation from childhood and one's parents, awkward and unwelcome physical changes, and social jockeying (which often comes at the expense of bullying, exclusion, rumors, and teasing). At this stage of life, defined by changes, forming another "family"— of friends— becomes important to re-establish and maintain acceptance, confidence, and stability.

Clique Pressures

Cliques alienate both members and non-members; they cut both ways. They feel cool when you belong but cruel when you are on the outside looking in. Acceptance to a clique requires conformity, encouraging individuals to personify and possess identified social traits and characteristics, while rejection is grounded in the lack thereof. Cliques create pressures for both those that belong and those that do not.

  • Clique members can feel socially restricted and restrained by the demands to maintain similarity. Insiders feel pressured to upkeep their appearance, behavior, beliefs, and possessions to the clique standards.
  • On the other hand, non-members may feel a sense of rejection, or even maltreatment for being different. Facing a clique can be demeaning and intimidating. Outsiders may believe that since they are not a member, they do not fit in, belong, or are not as good as the others.
A Clique's Power

Cliques are tight knit groups in which that closeness centers around similarity, and shunning those who are different. In the social hierarchy, powerful cliques can exert a great amount of influence on the way a grade, class, or a set of students behaves. Their power is often much greater than their actual size, especially when nonmembers defer to their position.

When Cliques End

As adolescents grow older and the world around them expands, the social shelter, simplicity, and similarity of a clique becomes less serviceable. With demands of conformity being too restrictive, active membership may decline, ultimately leading to a clique's undoing.

How You Can Help Your Child Navigate The Social Cliqueness of Adolescence

As kids navigate friendships and cliques, a parent can offer support. If your child appears upset or their social situation suddenly changes, ask them about it. Here are some tips:

  • Talk about your own experiences in school. Chances are you can probably recall the very cliques that dominated your school experience.
  • Put rejection in perspective. Remind your child of a time they have been angry, annoyed, or upset with their parents, friends, or siblings– and how quickly the tables can turn.
  • Give insight into social dynamics. Recognize that people are often judged for their looks, dress, and personality, but often those who pick on such people lack their self confidence.
  • Look to the media for similar stories. Point out a book, movie, or television character that has been through a similar thing. Many of these protagonists overcome their own rejection.
  • Encourage out-of-school friendships. Art classes, sports teams, musical theater, and other opportunities allow a child to spread their wings and form friendships and social groups beyond the walls of their school.
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