The Struggle to Fit In
One group of kids meets in the back parking lot after school. Another gathers in the left corner of the cafeteria during lunchtime.
Whether you were in them or excluded from them, chances are at some point in adolescent life, you had to deal with cliques. And though those days may have long passed for you, they are here again if you have a school-age child.
With adolescence marking such a crucial period in your child’s development, it’s important to make sure he or she has the resources needed to cope in the exclusive world of cliques.
According to Sarah Garwood, MD, pediatric and adolescent medicine physician on the medical staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, you first need to help your child know the difference between social behaviors that are healthy and those that are unhealthy.
“Cliques are different than a group of friends in that when you are part of one, you are expected to only socialize with members of the clique and are discouraged from being friends with people outside of it,” says Dr. Garwood. “In a lot of ways, this thinking is developmentally normal. As young teens start growing up and seeking independence from their parents, it’s important for them to identify with a peer group.”
Other benefits that come from belonging to a clique are having social support, an outlet to vent frustrations and a sense of belonging. The drawbacks come into play, says Dr. Garwood, when members of cliques exclude or bully other kids.
When Cliques Hurt: How You Can Support Your Kids
For parents who want to talk to their children about cliques, Dr. Garwood says encouraging confidence is key.
“Youth who are subjected to the negative effects of cliques need to be comfortable standing up for themselves,” says Dr. Garwood. “To help your kids gain the confidence they need to do that, it’s important to help them focus on their strengths and interests and find friendships in places outside the settings from which they are being excluded.”
When kids feel discouraged by social situations, Dr. Garwood suggests their parents not minimize their feelings but remind them it’s temporary.
“Even if a child is being rejected by cliques now, that won’t always be the case,” says Dr. Garwood. “Listen, be supportive and validate their feelings, but try to remind them of past instances in which they felt rejected and point out that those situations are temporary.”