Fitting in as a teen: How to help your child face cliques

Figuring out friendships is all part of growing up. By the time kids are in middle school some of those friendships have turned into cliques.

It's no coincidence that cliques start to emerge during adolescence. It's a time developmentally when children start to pull away from their own families and start to identify more with their friends.

The movie "Mean Girls" revolves around the theme of cliques in school. The characters show a new student the layout of the cliques. "This map shows the school's central nervous system, the cafeteria. You've got your cool Asians, burnouts, jocks, the greatest people you'll ever meet and the worst," points out Janis Ian.

It's a cliché in the movies, but it isn't far at all from real life. Just ask these 7th and 8th graders at Forest Heights Middle School.

"People, so they won't be alone, they'll just join cliques because they'll want to feel like they fit in, even when they really don't," said eighth grader Monserrat Barrera.

"I think they're trying to be popular," said seventh grader Jasmine Richardson. "Kids, all they care about is shoes, clothes, jewelry and all of that. They don't care about anything educational."

"They'll pretty much do anything to be popular," agreed eighth grader Michael Leiterman.

The pursuit of popularity fuels much of the cliquish behavior in both middle and high school. Problems occur when certain kids are accepted but others are left out.

Martha Christie, school counselor at Forest Heights sees it every day. "As teachers and administrators, we can't control who children will let in. We can encourage to be open minded. We can encourage children to be welcoming but just like we can't make adults pick their friends, we can't really do that with our students."

There are some things parents can do to help.

-Be active in planning outings or events where your kids can strengthen their relationships.

-Keep your kids involved in activities that make them feel good about themselves.

-Teach your children to think for themselves and talk about not being afraid to be independent.

-Encourage your kids to keep their social circles open.

-Be there to talk and to listen to your kids.

"If they see you living as an example to them of how you want them to live, they do get it. Your actions will speak louder than your words. Remember that, but do listen," said Christie.

Another tool for survival is to help your kids identify friends with similar values and goals. Doing so helps insulate them from the pressure of changing their core beliefs just to fit in.

"You should just stay true to yourself and make sure you stay around people that you trust because that will help you in a lot of ways," advised Jasmine.

"Be yourself, find the people that you're like and don't change your ways just to be included," said Michael. "There's always going to be someone that's like you. You'll find that person."

If you see your child struggling to fit in at school, experts say it helps if they have an activity outside of school such as a sport, club or church group where they can have a separate social circle.