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Social Life in Middle and High School: Dealing With Cliques and Bullies (page 2)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

When do cliques and bullies start to matter?

Some children show preferences for friends at an early age. By 9 or l0, as children become aware of differences, they begin to form cliques. At l0 to 12 years of age, as they separate from parents, identification with peers may become exaggerated and cliques may form and change frequently. By middle and high school, as the issue of belonging becomes even more critical, cliques and bullies become more prominent. Bullying in schools peaks in middle school and drops off by grades 11 and 12.

Defining cliques

Cliques are small, exclusive groups of friends who share common traits and common interests (music, dress, sports, etc.). Each member is either directly or indirectly connected to each other member. Cliques usually refer to groups of girls; however boys are also involved in cliques. There are usually hierarchies of cliques among teens, from the populars to the losers, and there are often many cliques in schools, including jocks, arties, brains, nerds, druggies, freaks, preppies and normals.

Cliques have a positive side

Normal adolescent development often revolves around cliques - joining cliques, wanting to join cliques, or being excluded from cliques. Cliques can have a strong positive effect on self-worth. They provide a social niche and help kids develop a sense of belonging, support, and protection. Cliques boost selfesteem by making kids feel wanted, and they enable the clique member to develop a sense of identity and to regulate social interactions.

The downside of cliques

Cliques can be hostile to other kids and other cliques. In some cases clique members can become nasty to outsiders by putting them down, using teasing, taunting, backstabbing, and even violence. Although girls are socialized to suppress physical displays of aggression, it can take the form of belittling and intimidating behavior. Cliques can blur individuality and prevent members from mixing with members of other groups. They usually require some degree of conformity - in appearance, attitude, or behavior. They can oust members for no apparent reason, and they can pressure kids into group activities in order to fit in, creating interpersonal conflict and bully behavior.

Defining bullying

Some teasing is inevitable in childhood and adolescence. When, however, teasing becomes taunting, the situation becomes serious. Bullying is an unhealthy situation in which a student or group of students use superior size or power to win concessions over a vulnerable student or group of students. A victim of bullying can be exposed repeatedly and over time to negative actions by one or more students. Negative actions can occur.

  • verbally through threats, teasing, and name-calling
  • physically through hitting, pushing, kicking, pinching, or restraining
  • nonverbally and nonphysically through making faces, obscene gestures, intentionally excluding someone from a group, refusing to comply with someone's wishes, and spreading rumors.

What kids say about being bullied

They made fun of me about my hair. It was always frizzy. And it really hurts when I get teased, so I skip recess. - Anna, 12

They say I'm stupid; I try to ignore it but they keep saying it and they wrote it on my locker. - Dennis, 13

All it did was make me more of a loner. - Alex, 14

I get teased 'cause I'm friends with the nerds. - Cindy, 13

They told everyone I was a slut but it wasn't true. - Elke, 14

Gender differences

Both boys and girls bully, but there are differences in their actions. Boys who bully are more likely to be identified because their acts are more physical. Bullying between girls is generally verbal, more subtle, and indirect, such as ridiculing and starting rumors. Girls tend to bully in a group and victimize girls, while boys tend to bully both girls and boys.

Recognizing a bully

It is difficult to spot a bully through only brief observation. There are, however, some behaviors and reactions that typically occur between a bully and his/her victims. He may be feared or avoided, or peers may be ingratiating or pandering. He may be intolerant or judgmental and, although unprovoked, may express anger in verbal or physical actions.

What are bullies like?

In general bullies

  • need to feel powerful and in control
  • choose victims who dislike conflict
  • are good at talking themselves out of trouble
  • derive satisfaction from inflicting suffering
  • lack empathy for victims
  • explain their actions by complaining that they were provoked
  • are unhappy at school and do not feel a sense of belonging
  • are angry, impulsive, and have low self-esteem
  • are likely to engage in problem behaviors (criminality and drug use) later in life.
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