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?
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.”
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 needs.
“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 interests.”
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 self.