Parenting Solutions: Cliques (page 2)
Is always the outsider, on the fringe; is never included or not quite "in" with the group; feels excluded or ostracized; is the victim of gossip or jealousy
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns ways to navigate the social jungle by identifying groups she would like to associate with because of similar values and interests, not just popularity, and learns ways to handle group rejection.
Question: "My daughter is always in tears because there's always one girl or another who is threatening to exclude her from the clique she belongs to. I'd love to call these girls' mothers and give them a piece of my mind. Should I?"
Answer: I would not recommend picking up the phone and blasting the parents. It could definitely backfire. A better response is to help your daughter learn from the experience, and the first lesson is to figure out whether this really is the right group for her. Talk about your own friends. Watch movies like Bring It On, Mystic Pizza, and Pretty in Pink. Expose her to other girls with whom she'd have more in common. It may take some time for her to recognize that true friends are loyal and fun to be with, but once she does, she'll be happier. Unfortunately, she can only learn the lesson herself.
A clique is a tightly bound group of friends who hang out almost exclusively together. Don't get me wrong: they're not always bad. They can be your child's safety net: the kids share secrets, hang out, enjoy each other's company. The danger is when they become extremely exclusive, and the ringleader's mentality borders on cruelty through rejection. (In the world of girl social research, it's called relational aggression.)
Pay Attention to This!
Dr. L. Kris Gowen studied 157 girls between the ages of ten and thirteen.41 Those girls who were socially ridiculed or left out by cliques were particularly vulnerable to developing a negative body image and low self-esteem. The research also found that the girls mistakenly believed that if they were just prettier or thinner, they wouldn't be teased and would be more likely to be included. But the only thing they did develop was a dangerous eating disorder. Tune in to your daughter's feelings about her body and weight, especially during the tween years.
One Parent's Answer
A mom from Spokane shares:
Sixth grade was a nightmare for my daughter. She'd come home in tears almost every day, saying the girls were leaving her out. I'd just always tell her to go stand up for herself. Finally I realized she didn't know how, so we started role-playing the situations she faced and then coming up with solutions. It helped Dana gain the confidence she needed to face those mean girls until she finally found a nicer group of friends.
Mean Girl Cliques Are Only Getting Meaner!
Deborah Prothrow-Stith and Howard R. Spivak, experts in youth violence and authors of Sugar and Spice and No Longer Nice, point out that girls are getting meaner and more physically aggressive.38 Their research shows that more than one in every four teens ages thirteen to fifteen who is arrested for aggravated assault is a girl.39 In fact, numbers for boys are actually going down, while arrests for girls are going up at an alarming rate. What's more, the greatest aggression increases are among younger girls, and most violence among girls is directed at other girls. Although new studies by the Justice Department contest these trends,40 most middle and high school teachers I work with concur that today's "girl scene" is far meaner. Regardless of the research discrepancy, this is not a pretty picture, and parents need to keep their eyes open.
Research shows that cliques are not only starting up at younger ages but also becoming meaner and more vicious. The pain from being ostracized, repeatedly rejected, or having vicious rumors spread about you can be almost unbearable. Luckily, new studies also show that there are things parents can do to help kids deal with a painful social scene as well as figure out whether it's worth getting into this particular group or moving on to another. Our children need to learn these lessons both for their school years and for their future. Cliques don't stop at graduation but continue throughout life, so learning new habits today only makes things easier later on.
Signs and Symptoms
Almost every child has troubles with a clique, but when you notice these signs increasing or lasting more than a few weeks, and your child's demeanor is changing, it's time to look further. Here's what to watch out for:
- Your child seems upset or defensive whenever you bring up certain friends' names.
- You hear or your child shares unfounded rumors or nasty gossip about her.
- Phone calls or invitations from pals stop; friends who used to drop by no longer do so.
- Your child is repeatedly left out of events where she had previously been included.
- Your child wants to avoid places she frequented with pals; resists going to school; wants to drop being on a team, scouts, or a club she once enjoyed.
- Your child badmouths those who were her friends; she doesn't want to talk about certain kids.
- Your outgoing kid suddenly becomes withdrawn, defiant, or moody; she loses her appetite, cries easily, loses interest in school, or has trouble sleeping—all around the same time that those friends stop calling. She comes home frequently from school or a social gathering noticeably more upset, angry, or sullen than when she left.
Step 1. Early Intervention
- Be a good role model. Do you gossip about your girlfriends? Do you put your friend down behind her back? Do you exclude other women from your group of friends? Watch out. Your daughter is watching! Be the strong role model you want your child to become.
- Get savvy. Although cliques have always been around, they are different nowadays. Kids are meaner and more physically aggressive. You can help your child navigate that social jungle better if you educate yourself about the social scene. See the More Helpful Advice box for a list of books about cliques.
- Stay involved in your child's life. It's almost impossible for parents to prevent their kid's involvement with cliques. So don't try. But even though your child may be pulling away from your family physically, she still needs you emotionally. Find ways to stay connected; one way may be by involving the moms of your child's friends. Try forming a mother-daughter book club with clique members and their moms (or find a new group to help her separate from the existing one); take up yoga with her (or with a few of her friends). Or just find ways to hang out together and watch her favorite reality TV show (and pretend to enjoy it).
Step 2. Rapid Response
- Figure out what is going on. If your child is being permanently or even temporarily excluded by a group she really wants to belong to, there are many questions you need to ask to figure out why this is happening. The tricky part is that kids usually don't tell us why they are rejected, and they often don't know the answer themselves. Once you get at least an indication, you may—or may not—be able to help or at least advise your kid that it's time to move on and find another group. Here are possibilities to consider. Check those that might apply to your child or situation:
- Your child stands apart because she is of a different race, religion, culture, or social stratum; she is identified as "gifted" or "learning disabled"; she looks, talks, or acts "different." (The top reason for rejection is because the kid is "different.")
- Your child does something to turn the kids off: too pushy, too meek, too loud, too flamboyant, too boring, has poor hygiene or unfashionable clothes.
- She is brand new to the scene or trying to join a well-established group.
- She or your family has a bad reputation.
- Your child has other friends whom the clique doesn't approve of.
- The group shares a common bond your child doesn't possess, such as sports, boyfriends, cognitive ability, ethnicity, or past history.
- The group is too high up the popularity ladder for your child to aspire to, or they are mean-spirited kids who happen to be the "in group" that your kid shouldn't be part of.
- She lacks the social skills that would help her fit in better; she has never been a member of any group.
- You want or are pushing your child to belong to a group that she really doesn't want to join.
- Validate feelings. Being ostracized is awful. Don't minimize your child's worries. Doing so is a blow to her self-esteem. Don't press too hard for her to give you all the details. It's often humiliating for your child to confess her rejection. She may open up later, but for now be available and acknowledge the seriousness of your child's concern. She needs your support.
- Don't tolerate cruelty. If you find out that your daughter is the "Mean Girl" in her clique, step in ASAP. Demand that she apply the Golden Rule both inside and outside your home. Prioritize your daughter's character over clique membership.
- Don't belittle the other kids. They may be excluding your kid, but criticizing them won't help. Your child wants their friendship, so don't say "Why would you want to be friends with them anyway?" Do say "They have their way of doing things. We just have to find a way for you to fit in."
- Provide perspective. The fact is that everyone is rejected or left out sometimes, so let your child know that she is not alone in her misery. Let her know that cliques are most severe during the middle school years and that things will improve. Share your own ordeals when you were growing up. Find a movie about clique angst, such as Mean Girls, Angus, The Breakfast Club, and Clueless, or a book for her to read, such as Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman, or Please Stop Laughing at Me, by Jodee Blanco.
- Help her find the right fit. A clique can be a means of belonging, but it has to be the right fit for your kid. Ask questions that help her recognize the clique dynamics and assess if the group is the right for her. Here are a few to get you started:
Step 3. Develop Habits for Change
- Find one ally. One friend can be your child's social entry card into a clique. Tell your child not to aim at first for the whole group but to start with just a one-to-one relationship with someone already there. Suggest that she invite that person to do something with her—go to the movies, stay over, or just spend time together. Do prepare your kid for disappointment. Even if they become a twosome outside school, chances are that the pal may slip back into the clique at school.
- Nurture out-of-school friendships. If your child can't find healthy relationships in school, then help her look elsewhere: an art class, martial arts, guitar, hockey—any group activity she can take part in that gives her an opportunity to connect with other kids and fit in to a social group.
- Help her learn to discuss the "hot topic." If your child wants to break into a specific clique, she needs to be knowledgeable about the hot conversation topic of that group (fashion, celebrities, baseball). Hint: girls are more prone to talk about school, boys about sports. Research shows that kids are more likely to be rejected if they have quirky interests that the other kids don't care about (for example: Civil War battles, 1940s music).43 They are more likely to gain friends by expressing interests in the other kids' passions instead of trying to promote their own. Teach that tip. Or encourage your child to find a different group that is interested in her special passion.
- Discuss peer pressure and group dynamics. Your child needs to understand how a group of individuals can push kids to do things they may not want to do. Most important, your child needs to learn a few strategies to stand up to peers—especially that ringleader. One way to do so is by giving your child "What if she told you to …" scenarios and then helping her learn effective responses. Here are a few to get started. "What if she told you to … do something you weren't comfortable with? spread untrue gossip about another girl? cut your hair to stay in the group? supply liquor at a sleepover?" Stress that you expect your child to speak out if she doesn't approve of the members' behavior. Then help her create comebacks she can use to stand up to these girls: "I don't want to." "No thanks; that's not my style." "I'd like to, but not today." "Get real, would ya?"
- Talk to other adults. Assess the prevalence of cliques in your child's school by talking to teachers, coaches, or counselors who are with the kids every day. It will help you gain perspective on the severity of the problem. And if the clique scene is severe, then think of ways to change the school culture. Some schools have "Mix-Up Days" in which teachers "mix up" students so that they eat lunch with new classmates and discover new friends.
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