Hey everyone! So, today's post is quite different from what I usually post. I have been prompted by several people to post it here, so here you are. :) I have a couple poems and other prose-ish pieces in workings for the next several weeks, so hopefully I'll be a bit more active here.
Youth Groups Have Cliques Too
It is Wednesday night and you step through the doors of the church for the first time. You watch the teens around you and try to smile and catch someone’s eye, but no one sees. You approach a group of students who seem nice and stand within their line of sight, not sure what to do. It has been years since you set foot in church, now you are nervous, unsure of yourself. When they don’t take notice of your presence, you continue on and stand at the outskirts of another group of students, then another and another. Not one person acknowledges your presence, not one person says hi. You are disappointed; Christians are not really any different from the other teens at school.
Many youth groups have cliques, closed friendship clusters that interact exclusively among themselves. R. Knight (Personal communication, Oct. 8, 2013) said that, “Basically, your personality has very little to say in the matter of cliques. You're in or you're out. But when it comes to discrimination, if you're different, you're an outcast.” Peer groups serve as panels that help members define themselves and sift teens with into neat categories (Gainnetti & Sagarese, 2001). These groups form a social hierarchy that creates a definite “in” or “out” caste system. The higher up in the system a clique is, the more defined its rules are, the more exclusive they are. They infuse feelings of superiority in some and inferiority in others. Cliques cause teens to erect an image of themselves that they hope others will like; this smothers the uniqueness of the individual through conformity. In a clique, a student can feel safe and in control.
There are people who believe that cliques are not bad, that they teach teens important social skills that will later benefit them. While teens do learn socialization through cliques, what they learn is not healthy. They learn that they are only valuable if they fit into a group. Students learn how to interact with those who have similar interests, but ignore those who are different from themselves. This gives potential to conflicts between groups and division in the community. Cole stated that cliques “prevent many social contacts from taking place and reduces the effectiveness of those that do occur.” (as cited in Sociometry, 1963, Vol. 26, No. 2, p. 231).
Some people will say that cliques are not really an issue in youth group. That is not true; the cliques in youth groups are merely more subtle. Rejection is usually covert and sometimes unintentional. It becomes harmful when students become too comfortable in their groups and are unwilling to try to understand others. Cliques create an unwelcoming atmosphere that drives away those who want to find out what Christianity is about. Cliques offer acceptance, and seem to fill a person’s need for affirmation. The only way that cliques can change from closed clusters to close friends is a change in mindset. Ultimately, only the students themselves can change the atmosphere of the group. Leaders and parents have the ability to influence their teens to break away from the clique mentality. They need to take advantage of this impact by assuring their students that they are accepted, by encouraging them to make a change, and by providing low-pressure ways for them to interact.
Leaders and parents can affirm a teen’s need to belong. One source explained that a big step in helping an adolescent know that they belong is to be there for them (Gainnetti & Sagarese, 2001). Leaders and parents can influence teens tremendously in this way. Sometimes people fail to realize the significance in merely pausing and listening to another person, it shows the person that they are valued, not just for what they do or how they look, but for who they are. Everyone desires to be accepted and there is only one who can truly satisfy that desire, our Creator. The first step in helping teens to be truly willing to break from their cliques they must have their needs met in Christ. Leaders can help by reflecting Christ’s love in their interactions with people.
Encouraging a student to make a change and intentionally build relationships with people they would not otherwise interact with is important. The adolescent may be uncertain of their ability to start a conversation with someone they do not know well; reassuring them of their capabilities will help them be confident in themselves. Once an adolescent is sure of whom they are and no longer dependent on their peers for value they are ready for the challenge of stepping outside their comfort zone. By communicating with people who are different than they are, they force previously unconnected groups to merge. Peer leaders who do this would impact the community greatly, because the teens who look up to them would follow what they do. Students would grow on a personal level and gain leadership skills.
Providing ways for students of different interests to interact is a good way to embolden teens who are attempting to get to know others who have different interests. Ice breaker games are good example of this. These games provide ways for students to work together as a team and get to know each other in a low-stress environment. Leaders could also number students off for breakout groups after a lesson. Ideally, each breakout group would have about five people. Discussion questions would be provided and afterwards, the leaders could ask each group what they came up with to answer the questions. This would compel students to work together to answer the questions and to share about themselves with others in the group.
In conclusion, students should seek to understand those who are different from themselves and be welcoming to each other and to new students. This will cause the youth group to a warmer and more welcoming environment. Adolescents will interact with their close friends who share common interests as well as with those who are different from them. Many students will grow on a personal level, and the community will be a thriving place for students to collaborate and grow.
If nothing is done, cliques will become tighter as friendships between the members grow. Adolescents will become less welcoming and make decisions based on their peers’ opinions. They will learn to value what others think of them and hide their uniqueness for the sake of being accepted. Students may begin to form the feeling that their group and preferences are superior to others which would cause division and disagreements to arise between the cliques. This type of youth group would poorly reflect what Christ has called Christians to be.
The next Wednesday you step into another the church, unsure of yourself and apprehensive because of your previous experience. Soon, one of the teens catches your eye, he smiles warmly and breaks away from the others he was talking to. He greets you and introduces you to the group. Each of the teens makes an effort to help you feel welcomed. As the night goes on, other teens greet you and encourage you to play the group game with them. Before you realize it you find yourself smiling and laughing with the other teens. When it is time for the lesson, one of the teens invites you to join them. At the end of the night you leave with the feeling that this is a place where you will be accepted. When you get home, your sister asks, “Which youth group did you like better?”
Charlene C. Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese. (August 30, 2001). Cliques: Eight Steps to Help
Your Child Survive the Social Jungle. New York: Random House LLC.
Dexter C. Dunphy. (June, 1963). The Social Structure of Urban Adolescent Peer Groups.
Sociometry, 26(2), 230-246.