Why Teenagers Join Cliques Expert Interview

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Dr. Susan Smith Kuczmarski

Knowing why do teenagers join cliques can help you, as a parent, understand why your teen is so desperate to get into a particular group of friends. Read this expert interview with Susan Smith Kuczmarski, Ed.D. for information on why cliques are important and what they do for teenagers.

About Susan Smith Kuczmarski, Ed.D.

Susan Smith Kuczmarski, Ed.D. is a well-know speaker, author and authority on teenagers and family culture. She has done extensive research on how teens learn in settings outside of school, how they become leaders, and learn social skills. She also has firsthand experience as a parent to three teenage sons.

She has used her knowledge and experience for the past 30 years helping teachers and parents teach teenagers skills on leadership and responsibility. In addition, she is the author of two parenting books: The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go and The Family Bond: Inspiring Tips for Creating a Closer Family.

Understanding Why Teenagers Join Cliques

Why are cliques important to teenagers?

One of the biggest reasons why teenagers join cliques is because they value friends before anything else, including parents! Peer relationships are everything. In some ways, they replace the family. Cliques provide valuable opportunities for teens to learn a mix of social skills as well. Teens learn how to barter, take responsibility, and take collective responsibility.

Do cliques increase the status teens have among their peers?

Yes, depending on your role in a clique, status is received vis-à-vis the other group members. When a new teen comes into a teen group, for example, there are certain things that other teens will communicate to him or her about the group. Older members or leaders will make very clear to the newcomer just what is and is not appropriate behavior. These peer leaders will even reprimand other kids when they do something unacceptable. The leaders help maintain the group or clique in this way.

How do teens feel when they are a part of a clique?

Members of a clique learn to mutually support and nurture one another. One teen group member I know went through an awful experience. Although only one or two teens in the group knew what had actually happened, they all sensed that it was something bad and offered their support when she returned to the group. Even though most of them did not know the specifics of what it was about, they knew she needed help. A nearby adult noted:

Incredible to watch, it was like some herd of animals where one of them gets injured and the others crowd around and physically hold the one on its feet until it feels stable. You could just about see these kids crowding around her and holding her up. The kids moved in or her faster than the adults did. In fact, I picked up from them the idea that something was wrong.

Another example of this feeling of mutual supportiveness happened in another group in which a clique member lived on the streets because his parents kicked him out of the house. He lived on the streets for several weeks before adults became aware of it. The teens had helped him with food, clothing, places to sleep, and moral support. At the point when he was beginning to hurt and they saw he was not going to be able to take it much longer, the teens informed adults. As soon as the teens were unable to help him further, they alerted adults, who then took over and began working with Jimmy's parents at home. In this example, teens took responsibility for his welfare and offered support. There was a very strong sense of looking out for each other in the group. Teens can feel this sense of support and belongingness as a part if a clique.

Do teenagers join cliques because they genuinely want to be friends with members of the group or is it more for popularity reasons?

Teens usually join cliques because there is a group of kids that they like or are attracted to, and want to spend time hanging out with them. Some teens join the popular kids group, as they value on this "popular" quality. Others join different kinds of groups-like music, sports, or smart kids groups because they are attracted to the qualities or values of their members. There usually are many groups to explore, select, and pursue.

Does home life influence why teenagers join cliques?

Home life does have an impact on teens and cliques. Often the choice of which group a teen joins is reflective of the family culture. For example, if there is strong parent participation in a religious group, the teen may choose to get involved in a church-related clique. If a teen has parents who are civic oriented, the teen may get involved in a group like the WMCA, where teens take on lots of responsibilities in planning formal group activities. On the other hand, if parents offer a loose family culture and are not home on a regular basis, the teen might select a drop-in-hangout center as their clique. I do think that the nature of the clique that a teen selects often reflects the family culture in which they grow up.

The teen years are about finding your identity, how do cliques influence this?

Teens are really busy trying to figure out "Who am I?", what their passions are and what they want to do. Parents often step in and try to control this self-discovery process. Cliques seem to do a good job letting teens be their own guide, and in doing so, teens can become more independent and mature. Group or clique members create a sense of connection, yet they are not running their lives. This provides a shift, a process that provides a stepping back a bit, which encourages teens to discover their voice and identity.

What are some other reasons why teens decide to join cliques?

To further answer, "Why do teenagers join cliques?", it's important to know that teens join cliques to build relationships within these teen groups. They also join because cliques offer freedom. Teens want freedom more than anything else! But when they have it, they're also going to experience mistakes. Freedom is the ability to choose and the power to act. Too often, parents and other adults snatch away valuable learning experiences by choosing and acting for our teenagers. However, let's not forget, the skill to choose and the power to act must be nurtured and learned. To become independent, teens must learn how to do things themselves. Freedom is necessary for this learning to occur.

What should parents know about their teen joining a clique?

Parents should know that becoming a member of a teen group is very difficult and time consuming. In general, parents need to have greater sensitivity to how much work it is for teens to join a group or clique. Parents should offer loving help and encouragement at every turn. Finally, parents should never try to join their teen's group. Always remember: the parent's job is to STAY CONNECTED. It is to balance connecting with stepping back and letting go.


For more information on Susan Smith Kuczmarkski, Ed.D. and parenting a teenager, visit Master the Art of Teening! The Sacred Flight of the Teenager.

Why Teenagers Join Cliques Expert Interview