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Section 1
Collective Norms and Harassment Behavior

Question 1 | Test | Table of Contents | Introduction

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In this section, we will discuss four factors related to the concept and development of cliques. These four factors are, the significance of cliques to adolescents, the development of cliques, girls’ cliques, and boys’ cliques. Perhaps playing this section in a session might be beneficial to a client you are currently treating.

Taylor, 16, was referred to me after her parents observed what they felt to be suicidal behavior.  Dianne, Taylor’s mother, stated, "We moved here about four months ago. Taylor is such a funny, bright kid, and she had a lot of friends at her old high school. I thought she’d fit right in.  But she’s had trouble adjusting."

During our initial session, Taylor stated, "I’m like a ghost at school! No one talks to me. I eat alone in the cafeteria. No one sits near me in class. The only time anyone says my name is to say something mean. I don’t know what I did wrong!"

As you are well aware, what Taylor experienced is not at all uncommon. This kind of exclusion seems to happen in every school across the country. For students like Taylor, who are for some reason outside the social network of cliques and the ‘in crowd’, school life may be perceived as unbearable.

Bobby, 17, experienced the emotional impact of clique structure from another direction. Bobby stated, "I’m on the football team, and my buddies are all jocks. We’re real tight, you know? But my lab partner, Greg, is a goth. I get a lot of crap from the guys about being assigned to work with him. Greg’s actually really cool. But I know if I hung out with him, I’d never hear the end of it from my friends."

4 Factors Related to the Concept and Development of Cliques

♦ Factor # 1 - Significance of Cliques to Adolescents
A first factor related to cliques is the significance of cliques to adolescents. The basic definition of the concept of a ‘clique’ that is used with my clients is, "a small, exclusive group of people."  However, as you know, cliques often mean much more to adolescents. Friends from these cliques serve as a family away from home, providing support, acceptance, and group membership. Clearly, all of these aspects are important to helping adolescents establish identity. 

However, these positive aspects are little comfort to those excluded from this basic social structure. And as Bobby experienced, within cliques, acceptance may be conditional. Members may need to hide parts of their personalities, goals, or ambitions in order to maintain a sense of belonging.

♦ Factor # 2 - Development of Cliques
A second factor related to cliques is the development of cliques. Whatever the negatives, I am sure you have found that cliques are inevitable in almost all educational situations. I have observed that children begin rejecting peers as early as preschool. As a review, by kindergarten, children are able to sense who is popular and who is not. The earliest signs of cliques generally appear by second grade. By fourth grade, cliques are more noticeable, and by junior high, cliques dominate student’s lives.

♦ Factor # 3 - Unique Nature of Girls’ Cliques
In addition to the significance and development of cliques, a third factor related to cliques is the unique nature of girls’ cliques. Current research supports moderate gender differences in the formation and motivations for cliques. Girls typically make a definitive split into cliques by the age of eleven, around the age many girls are entering puberty. According to Heather Moehn, girls are likely to describe their friends in terms of character traits such as loyalty, sharing, thoughtfulness, and being considerate. Girls are also more likely to engage in relational aggression within these groups.

♦ Factor # 4 - Nature of Boys’ Cliques
A fourth factor in understanding cliques is the nature of boys’ cliques. Boys’ cliques tend to form later, between the ages of thirteen and fourteen, when individual interests are becoming clearly defined. These groups tend to focus more on activities and shared interests, such as playing sports or video games.  In general, these groups tend to be more fluid than comparable girls’ cliques.

Whereas the terms girls generally use to describe friends within cliques are more relational, boys tend to describe friends within cliques in terms of skill at activities, a sense of humor, or other more agentic terms.  Researchers have tended to find less focus on appearance or relational aggression within these groups.

Technique: "When to Leave"
For clients like Bobby who may find themselves troubled by aspects of their participation in a clique, I often recommend the "When to Leave" technique. I explained to Bobby that the following six signs are good indicators that it may be time to start searching for another group of friends.

Six Signs that You Should Find New Friends
1. You are getting a bad reputation, or are being labeled as someone who does something you do not really want to do.
2. The group tries to restrict friendships outside of the group.
3. You feel stressed out from trying to ‘keep up’ with the group.
4. Your ‘friends’ are punishing you by ignoring you, calling you names, or being hurtful in some way as payback for not going along with the group.
5.  You prefer just to have a few close friendships
6.  It is not fun anymore.

Think of your Bobby. Would reviewing the "When to Leave" technique be useful for him or her?

In this section, we have discussed four factors related to the concept and development of cliques. These four factors are, the significance of cliques to adolescents, the development of cliques, girls’ cliques, and boys’ cliques.

In the next section, we will discuss four myths of popularity. These four myths are, popularity equals happiness, popularity gives people self confidence, popular students have more friends and better friendships, and everyone likes popular people.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Crowley, B. Z., Datta, P., Stohlman, S., Cornell, D., & Konold, T. (2019). Authoritative school climate and sexual harassment: A cross-sectional multilevel analysis of student self-reports. School Psychology, 34(5), 469–478.

Crowley, B. Z., & Cornell, D. (2020). Associations of bullying and sexual harassment with student well-being indicators. Psychology of Violence, 10(6), 615–625.

Espelage, D. L., Hong, J. S., Merrin, G. J., Davis, J. P., Rose, C. A., & Little, T. D. (2018). A longitudinal examination of homophobic name-calling in middle school: Bullying, traditional masculinity, and sexual harassment as predictors. Psychology of Violence, 8(1), 57–66.

Martin-Storey, A., & Crosnoe, R. (2014). Peer harassment and risky behavior among sexual minority girls and boys. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 54–65.

Paluck, E. L., & Shepherd, H. (2012). The salience of social referents: A field experiment on collective norms and harassment behavior in a school social network. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(6), 899–915.

Peter, C. R., Tasker, T. B., & Horn, S. S. (2016). Adolescents’ beliefs about harm, wrongness, and school policies as predictors of sexual and gender-based harassment. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3(4), 426–431.

At what age level to children begin to display the ability to discern who is ‘popular’ and who is not?
To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 2
Table of Contents