Explaining Cliques to your Child

Explain cliques and their mean maneuvers to your child in terms of power and control, not friendship. Pre-teens and teenagers feel insecure. They struggle with being accepted. Some try to forget their own negative self-image by controlling others. Some attempt to make themselves feel better by ridiculing the shortcomings of others. Witnesses of the persecution don’t speak up or rush to defend a victim, even a good friend, for fear of being rejected, or worse, targeted next. Ask your child to observe the central features: Who is included? Who is not? Who decides? Who agrees? Does anyone ever disagree? Have a discussion about what happens if someone reaches out to rescue a shunned victim.

Immediately reassure your child that being shunned is not his/her fault. Tell them that they did nothing wrong. Take care to make sure they know that real friends will like them just the way they are. Girls who are socially ridiculed develop negative body images, concluded Dr. L. Kris Gowen after studying 157 girls between the ages of ten and thirteen. Victimized girls mistakenly think, if they were just prettier or thinner, then they wouldn’t be teased. Tell your child that this kind of mean-spirited torment is unfortunately part of early adolescence. Unless young adolescent girls are taught that the teasing is not their fault, they can come away permanently scarred and may spend the rest of their lives trying to understand their humiliation episodes.

The sea of confessions from mothers who, to this day, recall vividly their own similar war stories has truly amazed us. Even celebrities, famous for beauty, charm and achievement, such as Kim Basinger and Hillary Rodham Clinton, have gone on record with tales of preadolescent trauma. Share your own memories of scapegoating.

Turn your child from victim to victor. Admit that you can’t always make the painful drama disappear. You can talk to your child’s middle school teacher, who can work to eliminate the behavior in the school. Brainstorm with your child to get them to identify options. This is hard, to be sure. It’s not easy as picking up her lunch tray and sitting at another table in the cafeteria. Middle school is no picnic.

However, there are choices. S/he can ignore the tormentors rather than trying to befriend them again. S/he can start looking for new friends, in school, or in groups outside of school. You want to explode the image of powerlessness your child may have for themself, along with a belief that s/he is at the mercy of others. This twelve-year-old girl’s reasoning is healthy: “I figure I have other friends, so if I have one or two less, it won’t kill me.” All adolescents need a view that includes possibility.

Don’t join the fray. Some mothers telephone the offending girl’s mother. What begins as a mature and logical step can turn the clique crisis into and adult catfight. That’s what happened with two ten-year-old classmates in a Detroit suburb. The young pair had a history of name-calling and harassing phone calls, which soon got their mothers involved. Did this intervention help? Hardly. The moms made headlines with “Sugar and Spite and a Legal Mess Not Nice.” Each, taking her child’s side, took the social umbrage to the level of police reports, court orders and legal trials.

Promise your hurt, clique-weary child that this, too, will pass. It will. We promise.

David Britton, Roberta Lester-Britton and Michael Sherman specialize in working with adolescent issues.

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Dr. Gnap

Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.  He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”

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