Clique Busting


Sarah ran out of the classroom, tears streaming down her face.
The sting of the girls’ taunts and jeers cut her to the quick. Why
were they so cruel? All she longed for was their friendship; she
just wanted so desperately to be included and accepted. After all,
isn’t church the one place where everyone is accepted?

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It should be. But, unfortunately, scenes like this do happen in
churches — they’re not confined to the playground or schoolyard.
The hurtful results of cliques can happen in the Sunday school
room, on a youth group outing, or at a church event.

Kids long — and need — to be accepted, to be included, and to
have a sense of self-worth and value. When kids are ostracized or
shunned by other kids, their needs aren’t met and the effects are
damaging-oftentimes devastating. The shooting at Columbine High
School in Littleton, Colorado, serves this nation as a grim
reminder of that extreme.

In any friendship group, kids find friends and peer-acceptance.
That’s normal. Yet friendship groups have a tendency to evolve into
cliques. What, exactly, makes a clique different from just a group
of friends?

“Exclusivity,” according to Ellen Lumpkin, elementary guidance
counselor at Knightsville Elementary School in Summerville, South
Carolina. “If a group excludes others based on their defined
parameters, it’s a clique.”

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Having served as a Christian educator, schoolteacher, and school
psychologist for more than 20 years, Ellen has repeatedly seen
these patterns in upper-elementary-age children who have deep

“For kids whose basic needs are met at home, church, and through
healthy activities, cliques don’t have much influence,” Ellen
reports. “They’ll choose friends based on similar values and

For kids whose basic needs such as safety, love, belonging, and
value aren’t met, cliques hold a strong attraction.

“Kids learn quickly that operating within a clique provides
certain benefits while meeting some of those basic needs,” states
Ellen. “It’s almost as if kids don’t see that the exclusion of
others, teasing, and bullying are wrong. The pull of the group has
become so strong that kids get swept along with what’s going on.
All of this happens at an age when children turn more to their
peers for identity and less to their parents.”

Defining the Problem

The formation of cliques doesn’t happen overnight. Their
evolvement parallels the social development of children.

The Early Stage
Cliques begin to evolve around the fourth grade. Friendship groups
are very fluid at this stage as membership is not yet clearly
defined. That explains the phenomenon of shifting alliances-friends
one day, enemies the next.

It’s through this process that cliques are formed. Cliques are
typically comprised of girls because they place a higher value on
social relationships than boys do, according to John Hoover,
professor of teaching and learning at the University of North
Dakota and the director of the Bureau of Educational Services and
Applied Research.

“Girls have a much higher need for social affiliation,” John
reports. Girls realize through experimentation that operating
within a group gives them social power and a contrived sense of


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