The amount of pressure kids are under today has reached an unprecedented high. There’s pressure to receive top grades that will get them scholarships to college, to develop a list of extracurricular activities to impress admission departments, and to generally figure out who they are as a person. A social life is one of the only escapes from this pressure that builds up on a daily basis. But even a social life can be a source of stress for a middle or high school student if they fall into the wrong clique. These groups of peers that students often find themselves facing can have a huge effect on the type of person they become, and the values they develop along the way.
Not all cliques are bad. In fact, a clique is defined as a small group of people with common interests. They can be a positive source of social interaction for kids who are trying to figure out friendships and relationships. A healthy group of peers also provides kids with a social niche that gives them a great support system and a sense of belonging.
Finding a group of peers with the same interests and values doesn’t mean everyone is exactly the same. A healthy group of friends acknowledges the differences in each other, and uses those differences as compliments to each other rather than criticisms. These differences help kids discover a sense of identity by highlighting individualism, and, on a larger scale, can provide them with an idea of what they can contribute to society as a whole. Learning to thrive in a group where individuality is positively reinforced with support and a sense of belonging leads to a strong sense of self later on.
The Power of Popularity
On the flip side of this, cliques can become extremely toxic. This happens when the group revolves around power and popularity rather than shared interests and values. These groups promote conformity rather than individuality. There is usually one or two “leaders” which the other members of the clique try to imitate so as to not be shunned from the group. There is little sense of individuality, personal values may be ignored, and only the values of the leader matter.
The desperate need to conform puts unnecessary pressure on an already stressed out kid. They may know that schoolwork should come first, but the peer pressure of fitting in starts to compete with their grades. Gaining social approval takes precedence over academics and personal interests. Instead of being a support system, this group of peers becomes a consuming force that is very difficult to escape.
Negative cliques are a form of bullying that is often hard to avoid in middle and early high school years. As discussed in H.E.A.R. presentations, bullying is a relationship problem that involves an imbalance of power. By providing kids strategies for what to do if they are involved in unhealthy relationships, helping them build leadership skills and also providing them with positive examples of successful friendships and relationships, you can give them the tools they need to avoid these toxic groups of peers. Showing empathy, and teaching them that individuality is a good thing will help your kids plug into groups where they can grow and thrive rather than be suppressed by an unattainable need for power and popularity.
To learn more about how H.E.A.R. can help, or to request an anti bullying presentation, please click the “Request” tab and simply submit your contact information. We will contact you shortly. For additional resources about teaching empathy and building children’s social and emotional well-being, click on our Resource tab. Harvard’s Making Caring Common website is particularly recommended.