At recess one day Madison's teacher found her sitting alone at lunch, looking sad and upset. She could barely bite the peanut butter sandwich that she usually couldn't wait to eat. "What's the matter, Madison?" the teacher asked.
Madison burst into tears. "My best friend Allie is sitting with Cleo and her little group of friends, and they just voted me off their lunch table and won't let me be their friend. Even Allie won't stand up for me!"
Later that afternoon, Trevor was standing alone by the basketball court after school. Trevor's mom asked him why he didn't go play with Zack and Steve, who were shooting hoops. Trevor told his mom he just didn't feel like it, so they walked home. But the truth was, Trevor and Madison were facing the same problem: They both felt left out. Kids who were their friends yesterday weren't their friends today. What happened?
What Are Cliques?
Everyone feels left out by friends once in a while. And sometimes friends fight and make up again. But sometimes kids form groups that they won't let other kids belong to. A clique (say: klik) is a group of kids who hang out together and won't let others join in.
Not all groups of friends are cliques. The thing that makes a group a clique is that they leave some kids out on purpose. Usually one or two popular kids control who gets to be in the group and who gets left out. Kids may act much differently than they did before they were part of the clique.
For instance, Trevor and Steve always played basketball after school. But Zack started pushing Trevor out of the group, and now even Steve was saying mean stuff to Trevor. Same with Madison and Allie. They used to have sleepovers all the time, but now Cleo was hosting the sleepovers, and she didn't invite Madison.
Kids might form cliques late in elementary school or in middle school. Sometimes cliques are made of kids who share an interest in something, like sports or music. Sometimes the kids in them just want to be popular or want to belong. Both boys and girls have cliques, though people who study these groups say girl cliques are often meaner and more hurtful in the way they treat girls who aren't in the group.
If you are on the outside of a clique, it really hurts. Emotional hurt is different than the kind of hurt you feel when you skin your knee, but it's a kind of pain and it can feel awful. You might cry or want to yell mean things at the people in the clique. You might feel lonely if you're alone at lunch or after school. You might be frustrated or upset because you don't know what to do. You might feel down on yourself because of not being picked to belong. You might feel hurt because of the ways other kids keep you out.
Why Do Other Kids Fall for It?
Kids who fall into cliques might want to be popular and feel cool. Sometimes kids think that belonging to a clique will keep them from feeling left out. Or that it guarantees them friends. Some kids feel flattered to be let into a clique. They may feel better about themselves by being in when others are out.
Kids in cliques sometimes act differently than they would outside the group. They often go along with what the others are doing, even if they know it's not right. Even if it means leaving out a friend. They might feel bad about it, but they can't figure out how to be cool and still be nice to the person who's not in the clique. This is no excuse, though. Plenty of kids manage to be nice to everyone - kids in and outside their closest group of friends - without being part of a clique.
Sometimes kids in cliques find that they don't really want to belong to it anymore. They don't want to be bossed around by the rules of the clique, and they don't want to leave others out and hurt people's feelings. Sometimes they realize they are missing out on being friends with great kids outside of the clique.
As kids get older, they usually outgrow the need to be part of a clique. For some kids this takes a while. Most cliques have disappeared by the end of high school, making way for more mature and enjoyable friendship groups.
What Can People Do About Cliques?
If you or someone you know is being treated meanly or bullied by members of a clique, telling an adult is important. Adults can also help kids learn to play together, include each other, mend hurt feelings, and repair broken friendships. They can encourage kids to make friends and belong to a group without leaving others out. They can show kids how to be popular by treating everyone with respect and kindness.
Even if you're not being treated poorly by kids in a clique, you still might find it annoying if there are cliques you're not welcome to be part of. Or you might be part of a clique, but you might not like being bossed around by the rules of the clique. What can you do?
Find friends.If you find yourself left out of a certain group, focus on other friends. Hang out with kids who aren't part of a clique. There are plenty of them. Make friends with the kid at your bus stop and the new kid in your music class.
Speak up.If your group of friends has suddenly turned into a clique, speak up. It's OK to say that you want to invite others to hang out with you, too. Be prepared for the fact that the clique might go on without you. On the other hand, others might follow your lead and stop acting so clique-y.
Invite a friend.If you're on the outside of a clique and you want to be friends with someone who's in it, invite that person to do something with you. It might help if you can see your friend who's in the clique away from the other clique members. Maybe your mom or dad could arrange to have that friend visit at your house on the weekend. By spending time together, he or she might start realizing how silly it is not to be friends more often. But also be prepared because even if you have a great time together, your friend might still slip back into the clique when you're all back at school.
Look for friends everywhere. The most popular and well-liked kids are the ones who are friendly to everyone. Do your best to let everyone feel welcome to talk to you. Look for chances to meet, talk with, and play with plenty of different kids. Is someone sitting alone at lunch? Why not ask her to sit at your table? Or maybe you noticed the kid standing outside the fence while you're playing basketball. It's time to invite him onto the court. Who knows - maybe the two of you will really click, which means to get along really well. Now that's a much better kind of click!