Life in middle school: The dangers of school cliques

We are now well into the school year and our new students have settled into the Cayman International School (CIS) community. Reflecting on my previous years in middle school, I have noticed the special emphasis CIS places on creating a welcoming, accepting and kind culture, and on encouraging students to form relationships that transcend cliques.

Cliques are social barriers that we tend to elevate at the boundaries of our social groups. Teenagers may form cliques without even knowing it, simply by modelling themselves after people they admire. They choose the qualities and interests they want to exhibit through these groups. For example, if a teenager wants to be popular, he or she would gravitate toward other students considered popular. Other common cliques include sports, music and academic cliques.

Because middle school cliques consist of teenagers with common interests, members feel a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, this sense of belonging often leads clique members to antisocial behaviours. One reason for this is that when teenagers form cliques, they tend to establish barriers and a sense of superiority. This results in cliques finding it difficult, or even unacceptable, to talk to outsiders. Clique members often become too comfortable and lose motivation to make new friends with those outside their clique.

Another issue with cliques is they flourish with peer pressure, often committing teens to unhealthy or immoral behaviours. Peer pressure also negatively impacts self-esteem. An unhealthy desire to belong lowers self-confidence and gets rid of independent decision making. One example could be members of a clique being pressured to maintain a certain weight.

Instead of creating authentic friendships, cliques foster unhealthy and controlling ones. A controlling friend does not accept the other for who they are, but instead who they want the other to be. This happens because members become more concerned with status than genuine connections. Members might care more for who went to the latest social event, or who is mad at whom.

Rumours, bullying and inappropriate language can also be common in cliques. Because members of cliques must support each other, they can feel empowered to do things they would otherwise not do, such as more openly shaming others.

CIS has used assemblies with positive messages and competitive community events to deemphasise social barriers in its middle school community. These efforts have been effective, and I am very thankful to attend a school with such a welcoming, accepting and kind culture. 

This article was originally published in the December 2021 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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About the author

Nathaniel Shaughness is an 8th grade student at Cayman International School.

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