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BFFs or bullies? Navigating the world of cliques

CliquesBy Kristy MacKaben

In elementary school, Alexus Johnson of Crofton desperately wanted friends.

Slightly awkward and shy, Alexus was constantly excluded from cliques and shunned by other girls in her class. When a fifth-grade classmate threatened Alexus with a knife, her mother pulled her out of school.

“She was just a little girl trying to fit in,” says Alexus’ mother Thomasina Johnson.

After that, Johnson decided to home school Alexus, now 17, and her five younger siblings who range in age from 3 to 11. Her older stepson Terrance, now 18, stayed in public school.

Though Alexus’ experiencee is extreme, many kids are affected by cliques every day. Cliques aren’t inherently evil. Take out the drama and bullying and cliques are basically groups of friends. Most kids desire to belong to a group and when they’re left out, it doesn’t feel good, says Dr. Susan Swearer, professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska and developer of the Bullying Research Network.

Children, especially girls, can begin forming cliques as early as preschool, Swearer says. Kids find friends with similar interests; they stick together and form a group.

“The purpose of cliques is to create friendship groups based on mutual interests or commonalities. Basically that means birds of a feather flock together,” Swearer says.

This is true at Charles Carroll Middle School in New Carrolton where (mostly female) cliques are based on race and culture. At the school, where the student body is 60 percent Hispanic and 30 percent African American, girls form cliques with other girls who look and act like them, says Dr. William Clay, seventh grade counselor at Charles Carroll.

“They form their cliques around their cultural similarities and their hobbies based on what’s popular in their culture,” says Clay.

Some cliques in the school can be snobby or exclusionary, but Clay says others are just groups of friends who hang around together.

“I don’t think that they carry themselves better than anyone else,” Clay says. “They’re just a clique. They’re just BFFs.”

Eighth grader Jazmyn Berry says she and her four friends are a “nice clique.” They became friends about five years ago when they first started going to school together.

“We just hang out a lot,” Berry says. Along with being “nice girls,” Berry says she and her friends aren’t ready for boyfriends and they do well in school.

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