The Trouble with Cliques
Young people value being accepted by their peers, but that acceptance often comes at a price. Cliques are defined by whom they exclude, and the membership requirements sometimes include teasing and bullying others. Here, two young people write about how they fell into cliques in order to belong, then felt compelled to break away. (Some names have been changed in the first article, and all names have been changed in the second.)
Friends No More
By Florentina Abramov, 16
"Best Friends Forever” was written all over our notebooks, desks and lockers. We dressed alike, acted alike and wore those half-broken, fake-silver lockets from the 99¢ stores that split “best” and “friends.”
Amber, Lora, Violet, Sarah and I knew each other from first grade, but it wasn’t until we were 10 that we came together as a group. On Friday nights and Saturdays, we went to the movies and stayed up all night at one of our homes, talking about boys and dreams.
We were the troublemakers of the class who made fun of other kids and didn’t listen to teachers. We sometimes got kicked out of class or suspended.
I had fun getting in trouble, because I felt cool. I knew I did bad things, but since my friends were doing them, I did too. I wanted to fit in, so I never gave myself the opportunity to explore different friendships or activities. My friendship with the group was the only way not to be an outcast.
But change was coming. When I was 12, my grandfather died, which inspired my family to become closer to our religion. My family and I started following Jewish laws and customs more closely.
That meant keeping Shabbat, which was from sunset on Friday til sunset on Saturday. We couldn’t talk on the phone, drive a car or use electricity. Also, orthodox Jewish law states that girls should dress modestly, which means wearing skirts that cover our knees.
At first, I didn’t like these ideas and rebelled against them. But I eventually tried to live by them for my own good and for the respect of my family.
My relationship with my friends changed. I couldn’t go over to their houses anymore on Fridays and Saturdays. And when we went shopping, I bought long skirts as opposed to the jeans and shorts I used to buy.
I didn’t tell my friends that I was becoming religious, but they soon figured it out from my behavior and began to question me.
Even though we all went to a small Jewish private school, none of my friends closely observed the religion. They believed that anyone who was orthodox was brainwashed and weird. Sometimes they’d badmouth religious people as they walked past them. Sometimes I did also, just to fit in.
I still tried to be part of the clique, but my friends made it difficult. They talked among themselves about what they did on Friday nights. I felt bad that they were having so much fun without me.
One day at school, about two months after I began to keep Shabbat, Amber came to me and said, “Are you coming to the party Friday night?”
“Oh, please. Sleep over my house and you can come to the party,” Amber said. “Just tell your parents you’ll keep it at my house!”
“No,” I said.
Then Lora said, “You know, you’re rejecting your friends for your parents. It’s just the first step to becoming a total loser.” Then they rolled their eyes and walked away.
My mouth dropped to the floor. I was so shocked. I thought they were my friends! I thought they’d eventually accept who I was becoming.
The next few weeks were bitter. My friends stopped asking me to go to lunch. They never invited me over after school and stopped calling me or writing me e-mails.
I told myself not to let it affect me too much, to just let it go. But I felt lonely because I didn’t have friends to chill with. Sometimes, I thought about giving up my beliefs.
Journal writing became a daily ritual. I wrote about my once-upon-a-time friends and gave myself advice. I came to a written conclusion that I should become friends with other girls in my school, even though I was concerned they’d reject me.
By seventh grade, I began to miss my old friends less as I spoke to other girls in class and showed interest in their ideas. I realized with much surprise that the people in my class didn’t automatically dislike me. They were OK being friends with me as long as I respected them. I was amazed and excited to find life out of the old clique.
I soon became popular in my school because of all my new activities. In the eighth grade, I became school president with Evy, who was queen of the goody two-shoes clique. I had hated her from the first grade because of the “I’m too good for you” image she gave off in my mind.
However, while working hard for the school as presidents, we became close. I’d felt intimidated by her because she was so smart, but after getting to know her, that fear went away.
I learned to comfortably juggle my religion and social life. My former friends began to realize that it would’ve been OK to stay friends with me. They tried to talk to me, but I told them that we now had nothing in common and that our friendship couldn’t be re-established after what they did.
But I am thankful that they were my friends once. They helped me realize that if some people don’t like you because you want to be yourself, it’s OK. While I had fun times with my old clique, I don’t miss our friendships, because I enjoy the ones I have now so much more.
By Alice Wong, 17
At the end of eighth grade, my classmates and I hung around after school signing each other’s yearbooks. After my classmate Diana signed mine, I noticed she’d written, “Thank you for getting me into the gossip group.”
I was shocked. I felt horrible. I didn’t want people to associate me with a group labeled “the gossip group.”
But, the sad thing was, the girls in that gossipy group had been my closest friends for much of junior high. I don’t know which I felt worse about – that I’d been part of their clique or that they’d kicked me out of it.
I met the members of my clique – Maggie, Marsha, Kayla and Bethany – in sixth grade, the first year of junior high school. They were friendly and outgoing, and they helped me meet some new friends, too, which I liked, since I was shy.
I was also naïve and thought everyone was kind. I thought my new friends were funny. They talked to me about their problems and I confided in them. They seemed to fill all the qualities I was looking for in friends.
My friends were also striving to be popular, and as the semester progressed, they got what they wanted. People in school knew who they were. For me, being part of a popular group was OK, but it wasn’t as important as being accepted by a group.
But during that year, I also began to notice changes in their personalities. They seemed to think that being popular meant putting everyone else down.
Kayla was the leader of the group. People wouldn’t know whether or not the rest of us agreed with what she said because we were robots; we went along with her, even if our own opinions were different.
One day, Kayla pointed at an eighth-grader in the hall and commented loudly on “what a big nose” he had. The group laughed, but I didn’t. I thought it was rude.
Another time, Kayla kept pointing at some guy and laughing. I didn’t see anything funny about him, but the rest of the clique did. They noticed his crooked teeth. They tended to notice all the little things about a person, things I didn’t focus on when I saw someone.
They loved to label people “dorky” or “geeky.” They gossiped about how people acted or what they’d heard about them through friends and acquaintances.
I often thought about what would happen if I told them how I felt when they were mean, but I was afraid to because I didn’t want to lose their friendship. I was used to them and thought it would be too difficult to get to know a new group of people.
I was also afraid that if I spoke up, they’d all turn on me as well. I’d already had a taste of how it would feel to have their cruelty aimed at me.
One of the girls in the group, Bethany, had a particularly mean attitude and sometimes put me down like she did people outside our group. One day, I was wearing a Tommy Hilfiger shirt and she came over to check the label.
“Is that real?” she said in a very obnoxious and loud tone as she peered and tugged on the back of my shirt. Everyone just stared. My cheeks turned red from embarrassment.
She knew I wasn’t the type who’d confront her, so she took advantage of my weakness. I felt hurt and angry that other members of the group did nothing to stick up for me.
I was beginning to really dislike my friends. But I still wanted to be part of their group.
When eighth grade began, I hung with the clique during lunch and before and after school, but I also started to make new friends. I met people like Eva and Melissa in different classes, and I could talk to them about things like our favorite bands, and how we liked to sing and write poetry – things my old friends couldn’t have cared less about.
Whenever I was with my new friends and saw the girls in my clique, it was awkward. I usually didn’t introduce them to each other because I didn’t think the girls in my clique would be interested in meeting them.
Then one day, about three months before eighth grade ended, Kayla called me over to her table in the school cafeteria. She told me that she didn’t like that I associated with friends outside the clique. She said that if I wanted to remain in the group, I had to follow their rules.
The rest of the group just stared in silence at us. Kayla snickered while she talked to me; she was having fun rejecting me.
I was shocked, and then, as her words sank in, it really started to hurt. For the rest of the day, I tried avoiding her. I felt like crying, but I didn’t want to show her how badly her words hurt me.
For weeks, I didn’t have much of a social life. I kept to myself during school. I wasn’t up to doing anything fun. All I wanted was to be alone and have time to think everything through.
The way my friends turned on me made it hard to feel like I could trust anyone. I was scared that if I was open with my new friends, they’d wind up hurting me too.
One Saturday, Eva and Melissa dragged me out to the park to play basketball, twirl on the balance beams and ride our bikes. Then we went to McDonald’s for lunch. I had so much fun. I began to realize who my true friends were.
Still, it wasn’t until the end of the summer that I really started to feel better. Thankfully, making new friends wasn’t that difficult.
I realized I should’ve left the old clique once I knew how they were instead of waiting until they forced me out. I’m glad I’m no longer part of that group. If I was, I might’ve become as closed-minded as they were and missed out on the opportunity to meet new people.
Being in a clique doesn’t determine my worth. Now people see me as an outgoing, friendly and kind person, which is a more accurate reflection of who I am and want to be.
© 2003 Youth Communication/New York Center. www.youthcomm.org.
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