A few months ago, I wrote How to Handle Middle School Bullying, Cliques and Mean Girls. I’ve had many parents reach out after reading that article because their young teens were facing similar issues. Social exclusion, aggression and feeling like you don’t “fit in” are very common among teens. But, really, they can be experienced by anyone at any age. And, while I used girls as my primary example in my first article, many boys also experience feeling lost and lonely because they don’t belong to a social group or have been rejected by one.

Today, I’m going to hone-in more on cliques, social groups and friends by describing the dynamics of a clique, ways parents can support their adolescents during “socially rough times”, and how to help teens make friends and build confidence. While I reference teens, it’s important to know that these social tactics can be used by others; including parents themselves, as many adults also long for friends but have a hard time finding them.

What is a Clique?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, a clique is: a small group of people who spend time together and do not want other people to join the group. Cliques often consist of multiple people but can be as small as two individuals. Some of the common types of cliques are athletes (jocks), “populars” and brains. Not all social groups are ultra-exclusive; however, they can still be intimidating to enter.

Different factors affect the way cliques are established and who is included. In some cases, people are welcomed into a clique by association and perception. For example, someone that’s on a basketball team may be perceived as an “athlete”.

Cliques usually have different levels of hierarchy. Those who have been in the clique the longest or who possess natural leadership skills are often considered the group leaders. These individuals have the most authority over which group members can enter and stay. It can be very difficult to join a clique if you don’t have the right association, perception or connections.

Cliques can help kids feel more socially accepted, which can increase self-confidence; however, they can also result in social isolation from other peers, which can leave individuals having less self-confidence and feeling extremely lonely if something happens that causes them to leave.

When Kids Feel They Don’t Belong or Have Been Rejected

Here’s an example of a mother who is concerned about her 13-year old’s son lack of friends and feeling lonely at school.

I recently found out that my son feels like he doesn’t really have any true, close friends. After lunch, he walks around by himself because he doesn’t know what else to do. He used to play basketball with a group of kids, but about 3 weeks ago, the leaders of that group kicked him out because they said that they already had too many players and didn’t have room for him. My son admitted to me that he has a hard time talking to people because he doesn’t know what to say. My son is very introverted; quiet and reserved.

This type of scenario is very common. The 13-year old had been dropped from the group that he used to hang out with, and then felt lonely and awkward because he didn’t have any true close friends and felt that there was no other group to join. When a child is introverted this can be especially difficult.

Here’s another example of a 16-year old girl who had suffered depression and low self-esteem after being rejected by her group of friends.

After getting into an argument with her best friend, a once-popular 16-year old girl was dropped from her group of friends and left feeling friendless. Her friend had instructed the other group members to unfriend her and remove her from all group chats.

Unfortunately, this type of scenario is also very common. The hierarchy of a clique plays a large role in the dynamics of a group, which can make some group members have power over others.

Ways to Make Friends and Build Confidence

Making friends that aren’t just acquaintances can be difficult – especially in middle school and high school when kids have multiple classes with different groups of kids. Here are some ways that can help build confidence and make it easier to make friends:

  • Regular engagement and check-ins by a parent or trusted adult can help kids to not feel alone.
  • Joining after-school activities (including outside the school) such as clubs, church groups, sports and volunteer opportunities can be a great way to meet people with similar likes.
  • Role-playing and practicing at home can help kids feel more comfortable with starting conversation and turning the acquaintance into a friendship.
  • Journaling can help kids express their feelings and set goals for change.
  • Asking a teacher to open his or her classroom at lunch or after school to start a club such as board games, jewelry-making or another activity can help form new friendships.
  • Asking a friend over after school or on a weekend can be a great way of forming closer bonds.
  • Don’t wait for others. If there is someone that you’d like to get to know better, don’t be afraid to be the first one to say, “Do you want to hang out sometime?” (This is important for adults to remember too.)

If your child begins to feel more helpless, it’s important to seek an expert who specializes in the area that she’s facing. For an example, an expert such as myself can provide additional empowerment and skills to address bullying and other social issues, and to create a stronger, more positive support system.

About Danielle:

Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and, Danielle has appeared on Fox, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio.