Be Brave. How to Overcome Tyrannical Cliques

Photo by Luiz Hanfilaque on Unsplash

Cliques seem to pop up out of nowhere overnight!

My daughter discovered this within the first week of 6th grade. She was blindsided when a summer friend ignored her at school. She was even more shocked when this “friend”, along with others, teased and snubbed people over the silliest of things! She acted as if she were a queen on her throne addressing her peasants!

Kids who had been friends for months, even years, were now unexpectedly divided. Put downs, name calling, and rudeness prevailed. The pressure to fit in is stifling. Some kids resort to anything to do so.

Battle lines are drawn as kids fight to conform and fit into the “right” group in an attempt to survive.

So who decides who gets to be the authority to pick who’s cool and who’s not? How does that even occur? Was there a secret ballot?

And how do some kids manage to transcend the whole clique and popularity battle?

What’s even more frustrating is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to how you get accepted into a clique. It’s subjective and can change on a dime. One who once held power can lose it in a blink of an eye, instantly abandoned and forgotten.

For the majority of middle school and high school I was definitely not in the popular crowd. Nor was I in the unpopular crowd. Somehow I managed to skate right in between. Except for one fleeting moment when I became golden.

For about a week.

I don’t know how or why I got in. But I was exiled the moment I chose to spend time with someone outside the clique.

Middle school is made up of a bunch of kids just trying to make it. Trying to figure out who they are. Who at their core just want to be loved, accepted, and feel valued.

So cliques are created to help them establish an identity. To be accepted and belong.

And yet cliques divide people because your determination of who you are is based on comparing yourself to others. Cliques are the evil side of acceptance and belonging. Of being valued. They make uniqueness a bad thing instead of something to celebrate.

So  at one the most important stages of their life, instead of creating unity, they’re creating divisions. Pitting each other against one another.

Popularity becomes based on status and power. A way to manipulate and ostracize others to appear better. It puts people into a pecking order.

Yet the standard is a moving target. Whether you’re popular or not could change any moment for any reason.  There’s no consistency. There’s no predictability. Though it may seem there’s some control in becoming popular – wear the right clothes, ostracize people – the reality is there’s not.

School then becomes a battleground for acceptance. An attempt to feel valued by one’s peers. And if you’re the unfortunate soul who may be deemed unpopular, you become untouchable. Soon you doubt yourself. It alters your reality. You begin to believe the lies. It becomes reality.

But it’s not reality. It’s a false lens placed before you by others.

So how do we help our preteens navigate this battlefield littered with mines?

Listen & be empathetic.

Sometimes our kids just need to vent. Sometimes they need help figuring out what to do. Don’t judge or push it off as a temporary phase. We know this is a temporary period in their life and in the grand scheme of things will be irrelevant. But they don’t. They’re in the midst of it and it’s their reality. It’s their current lens. Try to remember being their age and how you felt.

Point out their strengths.

Preteen is a time when kids are trying to figure out who they are and where they may fit. Help them figure that out by letting them know what they’re really good at. Let them know what interests you notice they get excited and passionate about. Provide opportunities for them to utilize these strengths and boost their confidence in themselves.

Don’t encourage they alter who they are just to fit in.

As tempting as it may be, this may not change anything. Buying expensive, brand name clothes is not the solution. That’s just reinforcing the belief that acceptance is based solely on appearance. A person should be accepted based on their personality and how they treat others. Not the label on their pants.

Do encourage they remain true to themselves and their values. Encourage them to develop friendships with those who are not only aligned with their interests but also their values. People who will support their uniqueness and lift them up as a person. Not constantly try to bring them down just so they can feel better for that instant gratification.

Give them tips on how to deal with difficult and rude people.

It might not always change the circumstances, but it will give them confidence in dealing with difficult people. Rude and disrespectful people can’t be avoided. So let’s allow our kids time to practice dealing with them early on when we can guide them and be a safety net. That way, once they’re adults it will be a little easier.

Here’s some things they can start doing now: always respond with kindness and respect. Regardless of what the person says, don’t give in to anger. The situation will only get out of hand. Ignore the snide comment. The person is often doing this to get a reaction. Don’t give them one. If ignoring doesn’t deter them, walk away, if possible.

Now obviously these tips won’t work in the case of bullying. In those cases our kids should seek out help from adults to protect themselves or others.

If it helps them, role play situations so they can get more comfortable responding.

Cliques are as old as time. They’re not going anywhere any time soon and may not be controlled. What we can control is how we respond to them. So when your preteen is in the midst of the battleground be sure to:

  1. Listen and be empathetic.
  2. Point out their strengths.
  3. Don’t encourage altering who they are just to fit in. Do encourage they remain true to themselves and their values.
  4. Do encourage they develop friendships with those who are also aligned with their values.
  5. Provide them with tips on how to deal with difficult and rude people.

So what have you found to work in helping your preteen deal with cliques? Share in the comments!


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