Stereotyping: Cliques

What are cliques?

Under the strictest definition cliques are a small group of friends with common interests. Cliques typically form during middle school and continue into high school, although there are also reports of cliques in the adult workplace. However, in recent years, educators and school administrators have reported that many children are forming cliques at younger and younger ages, thanks, in part the rise in working parents who place their children in day care, thereby causing children to begin socializing earlier in life. Cliques become more important during middle and high school, when peer influence rises and contact with parents decreases. On average, adolescents spend one-third of all waking hours with friends; they spend, by comparison, only fifteen percent of time with their parents.

Adolescent cliques control the social structure in many schools by defining students’ friendships based on prominent characteristics. Cliques vary in size from three to ten members, with most having about five members. Whether it’s the populars or the jocks or the brains or the druggies, many of the same cliques exist at high schools all across the nation. In fact, if you were to ask your parents, many similar cliques probably existed back when they were in high school.

While cliques typically conjure up a negative connotation, there are a few good things to be said. Cliques create an atmosphere that helps an adolescent develop his or her social skills. Furthermore, they can foster an environment that allows students to feel safe by surrounding him or herself with other students who share similar attributesand interests.

However, that having been said, there as also many negative consequences to cliques. They can lead to the encouragement of negative peer pressure, such as teasing, drinking, or drug use. The may encourage the restriction of individual thought and can limit students’ ability to have a broad friendship base. Cliques are frequently arranged in a status hierarchy, with higher-status cliques manifesting tighter control over membership, but conveying more appeal to outsiders. They tend to belittle outsiders and convince group members to follow suit in this activity.


How do cliques form?

Adolescent friendships remain rooted in homophily, which is the tendency to associate with similar others. Cliques can form in a similar pattern. As children, we tend to select peers who are similar to us when establishing relationships. For example, if you like to paint, you may become friends with the kids in your art class. In turn, friends mutually influence one another in ways that make them more alike as these relationships develop. Therefore, you may find yourself doing more and more things with your new art friends and, in doing so, you start to become more and more alike. As friendships develop, their social characteristics gradually merge through a subtle learning process in which members mutually influence one another’s behavior via reinforcement and punishment. Dissimilarities will lead to either relationship termination or significant change efforts by members. Voila, a clique is born!

For many adolescents, there are few things more appealing then the popular cliques. Everyone knows who they are. They don’t necessarily have lots of friends, they are more like high school royalty. Yet, even this may not be as good as it seems. Unlike other cliques, which tend to be based mainly around similar interests and experiences, the “popular” clique uses exclusionary tactics to continue its existence.

An individual’s rank within an elite clique can change at any time because of the hierarchical structure that controls the clique. Someone’s position depends on how strictly they conform to the same values, beliefs, or opinions of their group. The role of the leader may be to control membership in the group and to dictate the dress, activities, and attitudes of other members.

As mentioned before, “popular” groups maintain their elite status due to inclusionary and exclusionary dynamics. These are applied to various individuals both inside and outside of the clique to maintain the organization and status of the clique. Inclusionary dynamics refer to the recruitment, application, realignment of friendships and ingratiation.

Recruitment into the elite clique typically occurs at the beginning of the school year. Clique members show off the most enticing parts of the clique so they can attract new members. In the school hallways on a Monday morning, you might hear members of this clique talking about how much fun they had at their party that weekend. Furthermore, cliques may solicit new members while excluding other students on purpose. This clique may ask one girl to eat with them during the next lunch period while excluding her friends. New members may experience pressure to end their previous relationships and form new, close bonds with leaders of the “popular” group.

Exclusionary dynamics are more prevalent among the leaders of the popular group because these dynamics work to maintain the leader’s high status by deflating others both outside and inside the clique. These dynamics consist of the subjugation of the out-group and in-group, stigmatization, and expulsion. Stigmatization focuses negative attention from the whole group and onto one specific group member through taunting, ignoring, and verbal insults. Perhaps you’ve heard a group of girls talking about one of their friends behind her back and saying mean things about her when she’s not around. Stigmatization is a strong clique tool because it gives the clique the power to make another person feel bad about him or herself.

Think about your own school experiences and some of the cliques that you see everyday. Maybe you noticed how you became closer to some friends while losing contact with others who join other groups of people. These experiences, both in and put of school, shape our social experiences and allow us to form our group of friends.


How can I be friends with two different groups?

People who are friends with different cliques are called liaisons because they are the link between two different groups. Liaisons usually have many friends who are members of a clique, but they are not in any particular one. Although it may seem like everyone is in a clique, actually less than half of all teens are actually members of a clique. Other teens are either liaisons or isolates (those who don’t have many social connections). A liaison is able to be close friends with one or more members of lots of different cliques.


“I’ve heard that girl cliques are meaner than boys’. Is this true?”

Not meaner, just different. When boys have a problem with one another, they’re much more likely to handle it in physical means. This means, they might break out into a fistfight to settle a problem. But,once the fight is over, boys can move on fairly easily. Forgive and forget. With girls, things can be a little more complicated. Perhaps because our society does not condone female violence, girls are less likely to handle problems physically, so you won’t see them throwing punches every time there’s a problem. Girls may resort to some of the inclusionary and exclusionary tactics mentioned above, such as gossip or backstabbing. When it’s over, girls may hold a grudge slightly longer than boys.

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