Understanding an Adolescent Phenomenon: Teens Click With Their Cliques
Adolescents intuitively gravitate to cliques. Cliques are developmentally in sync with the tasks of adolescence. When these groups of tightly connected kids and young adults are founded on positive principles, they can do a lot to promote the positive emotional growth and healthy psychological development that is necessary for adequate coping in adulthood. Positively oriented cliques, based on values of caring, empathy and respect for others provide learning experiences that augment those opportunities available in the family unit during adolescence. By recognizing their own unique developmental and psychosocial needs teens can understand the reasons cliques exist, and learn to make positive decisions about the clique with which they want to click.
Earlier stages of life have to do with identifying with family of origin. In adolescence it is normative for kids to begin to individuate from the original family, identifying more closely with peers, especially those with like interests. While seeking like-minded others happens throughout the life cycle, the clique phenomenon appears to have special meaning and purpose in adolescence. Either a positive clique experience or a negative one will influence teens’ adaptation to the demands of adult life. Teens may want to be aware of the potentials for either pro-social or adverse outcomes to occur.
A Sense of Belonging
Whether a clique is oriented around positive or negative social values and experiences, teens gain a sense of belonging, from being part of a group that is important to them. Positive self-respect and self-confidence that can empower an individual throughout his/her life can be derived from being part of a group with pro-social values. Being accepted in a clique of school intellectuals, for example, might inspire a student to reach for greater academic success. However, someone who is rejected from a pro-social clique may gravitate to a clique of outsiders. Such a clique might click around anti-social behaviors as way of expressing negative emotions. In such a case, a dysfunctional type of self-esteem can emerge. Even more problematic, this type of clique may re-form into a gang with more significant negative social implications, such as scape-goating, and verbal and emotional abuse of insiders and/or outsiders.
Often a clique serves an auxiliary function to the family for social and emotional development. Experiencing peer group social dynamics can play a role in the adolescents’ success in later adult settings, such as nuclear family units and work environments. In their cliques teens can learn to understand current culture, gain experience in peer interactions (including resolving conflict). In addition adolescents may derive a type of understanding and emotional support that may not be available from parents, who are overly stressed or (in the teenager’s perception) out of touch with what is important to them, (i.e. what is “cool”). When pro-social norms underlie the value system of the clique, the tight knit nature of the groups may help guide moral development.
There exists risk when teens connect in groups of socially maladapted or emotionally disturbed individuals who may have been rejected from more positively oriented cliques. Such “outsider” networks may overly control members, or form rigid connections around socially unacceptable behaviors, including violence.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association of Social Workers.
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