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Have teen cliques changed since we were in school?

Our kids live in a very different world than we did at their age, but one thing remains the same: High schools are full of cliques. Which group best defines your teen’s circle of friends?

Teen girls

If your kid is in high school, then you can safely assume that he or she is either in a clique or being excluded from one.

Common cliques never change

Popular kids. What determines whether or not someone is popular remains a mystery. The “most popular” girl or boy isn’t usually the kid who is best liked, it’s more of the one who is most feared. Popular kids rise to power by using and excluding fellow students. Who doesn’t remember a Mean Girls’ Regina George from their high school days?

Nerds. Pop culture presents nerds as socially impaired boys and girls who are obsessed with intellectual pursuits. They’re stereotyped as plain looking, bespectacled and looking in from the outside. However, this clique is gaining ground in our high-tech society, thanks to the likes of Bill Gates (the ultimate nerd). Nerds are earning billions in the computer and video game industries. More power to ’em!

Jocks. A jock (aka muscle head) generally describes a guy who’s into sports. Considering that the “jock” is likely derived from “jockstrap,” it doesn’t always carry the most positive connotation. Since the early 1960s right up to the present day (e.g., Glee’s mean jock Dave Karofsky), jocks are represented in the media as beefy, unintelligent bullies who abuse alcohol and beat up on nerds.

Stoners. You may remember recreational drug users as “potheads.” Stoners are united by their drug habits — some as users, others as political reformists. Keep in mind that a lot of high school kids smoke marijuana, but the stoners don’t feel compelled to hide, deny or apologize for it.

Band geeks. Anyone who was in high school band knows that it can be a fantastic bonding experience. Since they’re obsessing over music and marching formations, talented band geeks are usually easy to identify. Fortunately, they tend to hang out in groups, so they’re not intimidated by jocks or popular kids.

There are more. Goths, Freaks, Skaters, Emos, Preps, Gangsters, Cheerleaders, Punks, Sluts, Loners. Bottom line: Every kid is classified as something.

The problem with cliques

A clique can create problems in two ways:

  1. If your teen is rejected by a clique, he or she may feel ostracized and unworthy. The tween and teen years are challenging enough for your child’s self-esteem.
  2. If your teen is accepted into a clique, he or she may feel pressured to behave in a certain way. A child may ignore his conscience to please the leader and fellow members of the clique.

Children have no control over the cliques, but they can control how they respond to them.

Tip: Check out “Mean Chicks, Cliques, and Dirty Tricks: A Real Girl’s Guide to Getting Through the Day with Smarts and Style.” ($10,

How parents can help

You can help your teen navigate the tricky clique circuit.

  • Talk about your own experiences. How did you feel when you were left out? Why did you choose to join or leave a particular clique? Which “friends” actually lasted through high school and beyond.
  • Talk about appearances. How your child dresses or looks on the outside may make her more acceptable to her peers, but it doesn’t define who she is as a person. Likewise, she should resist judging others by the same criteria.
  • Provide options. Enrolling your teen in out-of-school activities, such as Boy Scouts or dance lessons, may help her find true friends with whom she has something in common.

Tip: Check out “The Courage to Be Yourself: True Stories by Teens About Cliques, Conflicts, and Overcoming Peer Pressure.” ($13,

Cliques affect moms too

How to deal with mom cliques
The politics of parent-teacher organizations
How to deal with mom bullies

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