Helping Teenager Cope with Cliques

Building relationships is very important in a child’s development. Learning to interact with different kinds of people is important because it’s one of the things your child will be doing for the rest of his/her life.

Friendship is an essential aspect of of your child’s growth. Friends help him/her become independent outside of your family. Also, friends prepare your child for future mutual and trusting relationships. 

Cliques can have a big impact on your child’s life. Whether he/her is part of a clique or is being left out by one, your child will be influenced by cliques one way or another. 

What’s a clique?

Friendships grow from a common "something". This "something" could be interests, activities that your child and his/her friends participate in such as sports or classes. Or it could be that your child and his/her friends live in the same neighborhood or your families move in the same circles. In friendships, each "member" is free to spend time with other people outside of their group and not worry about being judged and/or left out. 

Cliques on the other hand, are also formed based on the same interests but the dynamics are very different. In cliques, not everyone is of equal footing. There is a leader (or there could be more than one) who controls the group and who dictates what’s "in" and what’s "out". The members of a clique do most things together. A member who has a friend (or just about anything) that the clique does not approve of may be judged, rejected or ridiculed.

Cliques have rules, both stated and implied. These rules are created by the leader/s for the members to follow. Kids in cliques are pressured to follow these rules. They worry because they might be rejected by the clique by saying something wrong or not dressing correctly. Cliques are driven by popularity, and kids worry that once they get booted out by their clique, then they won’t be popular anymore.

When Cliques Cause Problems

Pre-teen and teen years are when kids are most insecure. They are still figuring out how they want to fit and how they want to stand out. They long to be accepted and thus they hang out with other kids who are "cool" or "popular".

Cliques can be a problem when:

  • kids act in a way they feel confused about or know is wrong to please a leader and stay in the clique
  • a clique becomes some sort of gang with unhealthy rules such as weight loss or bullying others based on ethnicity, race, looks, disability, etc.
  • a rejected child feels ostracized and alone

How parents can help

Talk about your experiences – tell stories about how thing were when you were still in school, and how the cliques were during your time.

Help put rejection in perspective – ask your child to look back at a time when he/she was angry with you (the parents), friends or sibling/s, and how fast things can change.

Try to explain social dynamics – admit that people are judged by the way they look, act, or dress, but that those people who are mean and who put others down lack self-confidence and cover it up by maintaining self-control.

Find stories they can relate to – there are many sources of stories that portray outsiders prevailing after being rejected. There are several books, as well as TV programs on this subject. These stories also send out positive messages such as being true to oneself and being a good friend.

Encouraging healthy friendships

Don’t just fit in, find the right fit – encourage your kids to think about what they are interested in, what they value. Ask them how those things fit in with their group. Also ask them why they want to be part of the group; would joining be worth it; what would he/she (your kid) do if the leader ask him/her to be mean to other kids.

Stick to your likes – if your kid has always loved to, say sing or dance, but suddenly want to stop it because the clique thinks it’s not "cool", and think of ways to resolve the issue.

Keep social circles open – encourage your kids to be friends with people they like, from different backgrounds, settings, ages, interests, etc.

take responsibility for your own actions – remind your kids that true friends respect each other’s opinions, interests and choices. Encourage them to be sensitive about others’ feelings and no just go along with the group. Acknowledge that it may be hard to stand out, but in the end we are all responsible for what we say and do.

Speak out and stand up – tell your kids that if they feel wrong in something that they are being asked to do, then don’t participate in it. If they are feeling pressured, encourage your kids to stand up for themselves, and stand up for the kids who are being bullied or being left out.

Things change quickly. The popular kid today maybe unpopular tomorrow. In the end, encourage your kids to be true to themselves, and to be a good friend.