Your 10-year-old daughter comes home crying because the girls she's been friends with are suddenly leaving her out and spreading rumors about her. She's confused because it seemed to happen out of the blue. She doesn't know what she did wrong and is nervous about returning to school, unsure if she has any friends. You're unsure how to help her — you've heard a lot about kids being snubbed or teased at school, but you didn't think it could happen to your outgoing, fun kid.
Given how common cliques are throughout middle and high school, at some point your child is likely to face the prospect of being in one or being excluded from them. There's little you can do to shield kids from cliques, but plenty you can do to help them maintain confidence and self-respect while negotiating cliques and understanding what true friendship is all about.
Friendship is an important part of kids' development. Having friends helps them be independent beyond the family and prepares them for the mutual, trusting relationships we hope they'll establish as adults.
Groups of friends are different from cliques in some important ways. Friendships grow out of shared interests, sports, activities, classes, neighborhoods, or even family connections. In groups of friends, members are free to socialize and hang out with others outside the group without worrying about being cast out. They may not do everything together — and that's OK.
Cliques sometimes form around common interests, but the social dynamics are very different. Cliques are usually tightly controlled by leaders who decide who is "in" and who is "out." The kids in the clique do most things together. Someone who has a friend outside the clique may face rejection or ridicule.
Members of the clique usually follow the leader's rules, whether it's wearing particular clothes or doing certain activities. Cliques usually involve lots of rules — implied or clearly stated — and intense pressure to follow them. Kids in cliques often worry about whether they'll continue to be popular or whether they'll be dropped for doing or saying the wrong thing or for not dressing in a certain way. This can create a lot of pressure, particularly for girls, who might be driven to extreme dieting and eating disorders or even to ask for plastic surgery. Others may be pressured to take risks like steal, pull pranks, or bully other kids in order to stay in the clique. Kids also can be pressured into buying expensive clothing or getting involved in online gossip and teasing.
Cliques are often at their most intense in middle school and junior high, but problems with cliques can start as early as 4th and 5th grades.
For most kids, the pre-teen and teen years are a time to figure out how they want to fit in and how they want to stand out. It's natural for kids to occasionally feel insecure; long to be accepted; and hang out with the kids who seem more attractive, cool, or popular.
But cliques can cause long-lasting trouble when:
As kids navigate friendships and cliques, there's plenty parents can do to offer support. If your child seems upset, or suddenly spends time alone when usually very social, ask about it.
Here are some tips:
If your child is part of a clique and one of the kids is teasing or rejecting others, it's important to address that right away. With popular TV shows from talent contests to reality series glorifying rude behavior, it's an uphill battle for families to promote kindness, respect, and compassion.
Discuss the role of power and control in friendships and try to get to the heart of why your child feels compelled to be in that position. Discuss who is in and who is out, and what happens when kids are out (are they ignored, shunned, bullied?). Challenge kids to think and talk about whether they're proud of the way they act in school.
Ask teachers, guidance counselors, or other school officials for their perspective on what is going on in and out of class. They might be able to tell you about any programs the school has to address cliques and help kids with differences get along.
Here are some ways to encourage kids to have healthy friendships and not get too caught up in cliques:
Remember to provide the big-picture perspective too. As hard as cliques might be to deal with now, things can change quickly. What's more important is making true friends — people they can confide in, laugh with, and trust. And the real secret to being "popular" — in the truest sense of the word — is for them to be the kind of friend they'd like to have: respectful, fair, supportive, caring, trustworthy, and kind.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2013
|It's My Life | PBS Kids GO! A safe, fun site for kids covering many topics, from handling divorce and bullies to learning about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and smoking - plus lots more.|
|American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) AACAP offers up-to-date information on child and adolescent development and issues.|
|Tolerance.org Tolerance.org encourages people from all walks of life to fight hate and promote tolerance.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Stop Bullying This U.S. government website offers valuable resources for kids and adults on bullying awareness, prevention, and intervention.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|WiredSafety This online safety group provides help, information, and education to mobile device users of all ages. The site covers everything from identity theft to cyberbullying.|
|Coping With Cliques Are you on the outside looking in or the inside wanting out? Find out how to deal with cliques in this article for teens.|
|How Cliques Make Kids Feel Left Out A clique is a group of kids who hang out together. It's kind of like a club. The trouble is, the leaders of a clique won't let everyone join. Find out how to handle cliques in this article for kids.|
|Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem Self-esteem is a child's armor against the challenges of the world. Here's how you can promote healthy self-esteem in your kids.|
|Dealing With Peer Pressure Did you ever feel like another kid was trying to get you to do something you didn't want to do? If so, you've felt peer pressure. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Helping Kids Deal With Bullies Unfortunately, bullying is a common part of childhood. But parents can help kids cope with it and lessen its lasting impact.|
|Teaching Kids Not to Bully Whether bullying is physical or verbal, if it's not stopped it can lead to more aggressive antisocial behavior - and interfere with a child's success in school and ability to form and sustain friendships.|
|Why Is My Child Anxious About Going to School? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|When Should I Intervene During Teasing? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Eating Disorders Eating disorders are common among teens and kids, especially young women. Read about the warning signs, prevention strategies, and ways to help a child with an eating disorder.|
|Dealing With Bullies No one likes a bully. Find out how to handle them in this article for kids.|
|Cyberbullying Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person. Here are some suggestions on what to do if online bullying has become part of your child's life.|
|What Kids Say About: Bullying If you have been bullied, you know how bad it feels. But you might not know how many other kids have felt exactly the same way.|
|5 Ways to Bully-Proof Your Kid Take the target off your kid's back with these smart tips.|
|What to Do if You Don't Like School Everyone has a bad day at school once in a while, but some kids really don't like school. Read this article for kids to find out more.|
|Feeling Left Out? Being alone in a crowd is no fun. Find out what to do if you're feeling left out.|
|Cyberbullying Using technology to bully is a problem that's on the rise. The good news is awareness of how to prevent cyberbullying is growing even faster. See our tips on what to do.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.