Mean Girls: How to Help Your Daughter with Social Cliques

Is your daughter on the outs with the in crowd? Here’s how you can help.

When you think back to your elementary school years, there was probably a time when you were part of a group of girls and suddenly, without warning, you found yourself excluded. The kids you thought were your friends all turned their backs at once and maybe even openly mocked you.

Establishing pecking order is a human inclination, and it means that someone is always at the bottom. That kid at the bottom is at a loss, and school suddenly becomes a very painful and isolating reality. Girls, unfortunately, tend to form these cliques earlier and place a higher premium on status within the group.

Forming cliques usually happens in middle and high school, at some point your child is likely to be both at the center and on the outside. There’s a great Judy Bloom book called Blubber that totally captures this principle. Sadly, there’s not much you can do to shield you daughter from cliques, but plenty you can do to help her confidence and self-respect. It’s a painful, but teachable moment.

Friendship is an essential part of child development. Friends are the first step toward independence beyond the family and prepare kids for the mutually beneficial relationships we hope they’ll establish as adults.

There are few differences between groups of friends and cliques: friendships develop from shared interests, hobbies, classes, neighborhoods, and family connections. Groups of friends have permeable boundaries, where members are free to socialize and hang out with others outside the group without worrying about being cast out. They maintain flexibility.

Cliques might form around common interests, but the social dynamics are dramatically different. Cliques are usually tightly controlled by a ringleader who decides who is “in” and who is “out.” The kids maintain almost gang-like loyalty, with rigid rules around socializing. A member of a clique who has a friend outside the clique may terminate that relationship for fear of rejection or ridicule.

“On Wednesdays, we wear pink.” ­– from the movie Mean Girls


Cliques usually involve lots of rules with tight control and intense pressure. Kids in cliques often have anxiety about popularity or whether they’ll be dropped for doing or saying the wrong thing or for not dressing accordance with the clique’s unspoken rules. This gets scary when young girls start extreme dieting and body modification. They are sometimes pressured into risks like stealing, pranks, or cutting school.

Cliques are often at their most intense in middle school and junior high, but problems with cliques can start as early as 4th and 5th grades. This really becomes a problem when the clique decides to reject a member. Their collective behavior targets the ex-member with rumors, cyber bullying, and other forms of social sabotage. It’s acutely painful and adult intervention sometimes brings mixed results. When parents and teachers get involved, they clique may backlash with more energy against the outsider.

That isn’t to say that adults shouldn’t intervene, especially if bullying is involved, but ultimately, we do have to let our daughters settle their own social disputes. Here are some suggestions for supporting your young daughter though this period of socializing:

  • Teach her how to identify true friendship. Social groups bond over the same things, encourage each other as individuals and generally stay positive. Show her what it feels like to be in those supportive relationships.
  • Natural leaders don’t need to be in charge to feel good about themselves. Within social groups, there might still be a leader, but they don’t cling to the role and try to control others. They are happy to have others take on leadership as well.
  • Avoiding the negative and superficial. This is a challenge because teens are bent on fitting in, but helping her discern between popularity for the right reasons and the wrong reasons. Often cliques make a sport of tearing others down around superficial things like style.

This is a painful awakening for adolescents, but that makes our job that much clearer: we should teach our kids (both boys and girls) to spot social manipulation and encourage them to be authentic to who they are. As they grow up, they will learn that we all find our people organically and when relationships are founded on the right things, like mutual appreciation, trust, and give-and-take, they happen and maintain organically.


About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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