Thursday, May 20, 2010

Middle School (Junior High) Cliques

Junior High cliques? Do you shudder at the memory or do you have fond memories. Cliques can boost self esteem by making individuals feel wanted, and they enable the clique member to develop a sense of identity and to regulate social interactions. Other times, cliques can be a harassing experience.

With hormones raging, concepts of self and the world drastically changing, and the need to belong and fit in coming to the forefront of a junior high student's life, this phase is intense for youngsters, especially girls. Having to deal with the junior high pecking order and related cliques can be tough. Kids have a natural desire to fit in and be part of some group.

I have a junior high child. I thought my child was dealing with cliques in a "normal" way (sometimes good days, sometimes not feeling accepted, the next day happy). One day recently my child was talking about how some of the people in the "group" were deciding whether to let someone in or not. My radar antennae went up. I thought I had taught my child to be accepting of all people. My child quickly indicated that a few of the kids, including my child, said "we are NOT a clique and anyone can join are group." Are they a clique or are they a group? I think they are a clique. How strong is the leader of her "group?" -- and is there just one leader? This I do not know.

Usually, cliques are groups of friends, but not all groups of friends are cliques. What often determines that a group is a clique is that they intentionally leave some kids out. Usually one or two kids control (even informally) who gets to be in the clique and who gets left out, or not accepted. Sometimes kids in a clique are mean to kids they think are on the outside, even if they used to be close friends with them. Anyone who has been excluded from a clique knows that it's an unpleasant experience.

What can be done to help children through this phase? If you are a student reading this, you can do some of this yourself.

• Build a sense of belonging and inclusion. Encouraging involvement in a variety of social groups (away from school if possible). These may include scouting, church youth groups, sports teams (or even individual sports), or clubs. These need to be activities that make the child feel good about him/herself.
• Teach social values such as empathy, inclusion, loyalty, respect, individuality and kindness. If you wait until they are teenagers, its often too late.
• Listen to the child and understand the way he/she views life.
• Prompt your child to keep his/her social circles open and diverse.
• Tell your child to always be him/herself

What types of cliques were you a part of? Did you have a bad or good experience with cliques? If you have kids, what has been there experiences and how have you helped them?

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