David Coleman: 'Exclusion from the group can be unexpected and devastating'

Photo posed by models

David Coleman

With the focus on girls and their participation in sport last week, I thought this week I'd focus on another aspect of preteen and teenage girl culture, the culture of cliques.

Many girls will have friendships that are not part of cliques. Those friendships may be individual, small groups, or large groups of friends. What tends to mark cliques out is the exclusive nature of the grouping of friends and the insecurity of many members of the group.

Cliques tend to centre around one very strong, typically quite smart, and, often, manipulative, girl. This leader of the clique can be referred to as the Queen Bee. She sets the rules and expectations for all the members and falling out of her favour is often the most feared outcome for her followers.

While such a leader may appear to be very confident, and also quite charming, she will carry quite a lot of insecurity about her position, always alert to uprising or attack from outside or within.

The Queen Bee will determine who is allowed into the group and who will be excluded from the group. Group members are in this difficult position of currying favour one minute and trying to avoid disfavour at another minute.

Social media, and "group-chats" on whatever forum it is, further emphasise and delineate who is in and out. New group-chats can be formed for specific arrangements, designed to leave one or more group members out of the loop.

It can be exhausting for girls to work out how much, or how little to contribute to the group-chats, because putting the "wrong" comment into the group could lead to criticism or, worse, exclusion.

Exclusion from the group can be unexpected and total, with the excluded member having no clear idea what they did, or why they got kicked out.

Exclusion can be devastating, leading those on the outside to doubt themselves and assume that they are bad, worthless or unlovable.

When we consider these exclusive cliques there seems to be little going for them, given the insecurity they seem to induce and the emotional effort required to sustain membership. But, what cliques do offer, when you are in, is total acceptance and a social "position" and status.

When you are in the clique you can feel wanted, accepted, valued and superior. These are powerfully attractive to preteen and early teen girls who place so much faith in their friendships.

In truth, we all like to have friends and to feel wanted and included. It's a very instinctive human drive. We function better in community than outside it. There is, literally and metaphorically, strength in numbers.

So, despite the stresses of being in a clique, many girls are drawn towards, and seek to be part of, one. But this can take a toll on their self-esteem, their anxieties and their emotional well-being. Next week we'll explore what you can do to bolster your daughter's self-esteem so that she may feel less dependent on a clique and more able to decide what she wants for herself, rather than what the Queen Bee expects of her.

* Next week - How to help build self-esteem