One of my sweetest parenting experiences was a one-time unique participation in my teenage daughter’s clique. We mothers of this group of adolescent girlfriends planned a surprise dinner out for our girls at a restaurant where we ate and celebrated our daughters. After dessert, we presented them with blue T-shirts that read, “I Survived Dinner With My Mother.” On that special night, it was fun to again feel like part of a clique, and it brought back sweet memories of belonging to a special group of friends ‘in my day.’
What memories do you hold dear when you remember adolescence? Do you remember whom you hung out with? As a parent today, would you approve of the group you hung out with then? Did you think of yourself as being in a clique? Actually, what we refer to as ‘cliques’ is a natural phenomenon. For people, just like other animals, seek ‘packs.’ It is human nature to gravitate toward people we prefer.
While being drawn to like-minded others happens throughout our lives, the clique phenomenon appears to have special meaning and purpose in adolescence. Teenagers are beginning the appropriate process of determining where they fit in; where they ‘click.’ By forming these preferred social connections, teens have an opportunity to learn about themselves and about their values.
By belonging to cliques, teens can find out what it means to be a person in their own right, a process experts define as ‘developmentally appropriate.’ It is part of adolescence to discover how we are different from our parents and families, and how we are similar to our peers. In cliques, teens learn about the current culture, and gain experience in managing social interactions - the dynamics of which can also play a role in an adolescent’s success in later settings, such as nuclear family units and work environments. Cliques can help teens decide what type of individuals they want to be, what type of people they want to associate with in life and what it means to be born into a certain generation.
Members influence the clique, and cliques influence their members. In almost all cases, that influence will be mutually beneficial. As they deal with relational issues such as conflict, rivalry, loyalty and honesty within the clique, teens become better able to understand themselves, and more prepared for experiencing mature adult relationships. In addition, the way the teens handle the interpersonal interactions within the clique can contribute to the development of positive community values such as caring, empathy and respect. The clique, in turn, can foster self-esteem, self-confidence and the development of moral values that can empower the teen throughout their adult life.
Unfortunately, it is true that negative connotations associated with the word ‘clique’ do exist. Such negative perceptions have evolved due to the fact that at times, cliques form around negative social and interpersonal values. Occasional disaffected or disturbed teens, perhaps those who have been bullied or possibly rejected by a preferred clique, tend toward groups of socially maladapted or emotionally troubled individuals. In these cases, risk is a reality. We have learned the hard way that ‘outsider’ networks may form connections around socially unacceptable behaviors, including injury to self or others. In some rare cases, this type of clique may evolve into a gang with more significant negative social implications.
For better or worse, regardless of whether a clique has formed around positive or negative social values and behaviors - or some of both - teens gain a sense of belonging from being a part of a group important to them. As parents, however, we can be reassured by the fact that even a reasonably adaptive and socially acceptable clique may have aspects with which we adults may disapprove. For the most part, adolescents in cliques containing questionable elements eventually realize that those cliques are dead-ends.
You can keep worry at bay by focusing on the many ways in which a clique fosters healthy development. As my ‘clique’ of mothers did, you might make a decision to stay involved with your child’s interests and activities in order to recognize signs of potential negative behaviors or notice indicators of a budding problem. In such circumstances, you might consider consulting a professional regarding how to develop other more positive connections in your child’s life. You might also speak with other parents about developing social networks that can facilitate development in more preferable ways.
We were all young once. Rest assured, you can believe in the fact your teen is doing exactly what they are meant to do at this stage of their life. And you can trust your teen is growing stronger and wiser from clicking with their clique.
Bette J. Freedson, LCSW, is a clinical social worker, certified group psychotherapist and the author of Soul Mothers’Wisdom: Seven Insights for the Single Mother. Bette’s specialties include stress management, parenting issues, recovery from trauma and the development of intuitive insight. She maintains a private practice with her husband, Ray Amidon, LCPC.
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