Even though it feels dangerous to have your middle schooler committed to the rules of a clique, it is an important part of their development of a sense of belonging. If you’re starting to get worried, you might want to get more information before you take action. Do you communicate well with your child? It will be very important to empathize with your child’s desire to fit in with a group as this is a very normal part of their development.
Cliques tend to have strict rules about how to act, who to socialize with, and even what to wear. This can be fun and lead to strong connections with their peers. If you find yourself wondering if it’s gone too far or if you should intervene, first consider your child’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors as you determine what kind of impact their friendships are having on their daily life (inside and outside of school).
What’s the best way to find these things out? Be a good listener. Start with short, open-ended questions that might give you an idea of what’s going on. Ask for clarifications and specifics (e.g. “what does that mean?”), keeping in mind that each child has their own unique perspective on their environment. You may find that how they see their world can be very different from how you see it. Help them process how they see themselves and their peers, what kind of friend they want to be and what kind of group would make them truly happy.
Does your child seem happy with their group of friends? If not, what would they wish for? If you trust in their decision making, you may only be needed for support when normal conflict arises. If you don’t know much about your child’s group of friends, you may want to ask questions that will alleviate any concerns you may have, and trust your child to navigate through the rest. When it’s hard to find the right words to carefully address sensitive areas, you might want to try using one of the questions below. These questions are designed to touch on specific areas that may be considered risk factors for “clique behavior”. Try asking open-ended questions as if you know nothing at all about their social world, and they are your guide. Letting them know that you just want to understand them better will make them feel good in itself. This can also help lower your child’s defenses and keep them from thinking they are being wrongly accused.
Clique Analysis 101: Assessing Risks & Benefits
Culture: What do you all have in common? How do you feel when you’re together? What makes your group special?
Rules: Do you have rules? Who makes up rules? What happens if someone doesn’t follow a rule?
Discrimination: What should someone look like to be in the group?
Safety: Has anyone in your group made you do something you didn’t want to? Has anyone been hurt (and how)?
Potential Follow Up Questions
What does that mean?
Can you tell me more?
How do you feel about that?
What do you like the most?
What do you wish you could change?
Talk about the advantages and disadvantages, especially if your child seems ambiguous about being part of a group. You may want to write these down on a piece of paper together. Keep in mind that this is a time when they start making their own choices. Help them by opening up discussions about the ways in which they think and problem solve, so you can help them make good choices instead of telling them which choices to make (which often leads to rebellion and the “you don’t understand me!” attitude).
As your child opens the door for you and leads you into their social world, pay attention to what beliefs and feelings are coming out. These conversations serve different functions and may come as a relief, a bonding experience, or an eye opener to something needing immediate attention. Either way, you are communicating with your child and making them feel loved, secur and respected.