Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
I Peter 3: 8-9
NICE people are fun to hang with; those who are kind and thoughtful, who think of others and not just themselves. They energize others and motivate their friends in positive ways. Unfortunately our youth culture (and even our adult world) can often be just the opposite; mean spirited, thoughtless and self centered. Why is this so even within Christian communities where, deep inside, kids and adults innately know it’s wrong?
Part of the answer is buried within the social dynamics of cliques.
Clearly, one of the most consistent social issue kids of all ages deal with is wanting to belong-yet feeling left out. The difficult emotions that well up inside a person who feels rejected smacks of utter despair! School cliques are usually led by a handful of classmates who purpose to exclude others on the basis on their own established standards. This form of social bullying punches and kicks the heart of the rejected ones-those who are denied acceptance based on a perceived inferiority in some area (intelligence, talents; physical attractiveness, social status, etc.). The friendships within the cliques are also limited to those who will allow the leaders to remain in control and at the center of it all. In today’s connected world, this type of bullying often continues beyond the school day via cell phones and computers, making it even more relentless.
It’s a form of bullying that often goes on right under the eyes of both parents and teachers.
Kids know the rules–to belong to a clique, one has to abide by the rules taking on it’s identity or be subject to it’s criticism and judgment. All too often kids prefer peer acceptance over being judged and ridiculed, so they set out to please these social bullies at all cost. Yet, the cycle only worsens as the rules of inclusion change on the whim of the clique’s leaders whose intentions are to keep others under their thumb.
The emergence of cliques begin early on in elementary school when rules of participation develop around simple things like kids whose parents know each other to the type of activities kids choose to play at recess. Joey belongs to a first grade group of boys who pay very close attention to the types of shoes each wear. This seems to be a major “in” or “out” factor for this group, making Joey overly concerned about what shoes he wears even at 7 years old. Are they fast enough? The right color? Will the style of his shoes be acceptable in this group?
The social rules of cliques become more sophisticated (and worrisome) in middle school where they form around ideals such as girls who have boyfriends or those willing to use inappropriate language or the so called popular-but-not-all-that-well-liked students whose identity usually forms around material possessions, clothing and looks. By high school, cliques also form around interests; athletics, music, drama, studies, art, etc. Every school has the rebellious cliques; those students who unite together in some way against commonly held standards and values of their community. This continues on into the collegiate years and beyond.
One thing is true of all school cliques however: the members within a clique begin to look alike, talk alike, behave alike and even believe like one another. What makes a clique different, from a tight knit circle of friends who enjoy each other, is the exclusivity factor which is formed around the powerful persuasion within the clique to become one identity. Some kids will compromise any value they hold to if belonging to this group is a higher aim, and in the adolescent years, that readily becomes the case. During the adolescent and teen years, nothing can serve to shape character and beliefs like cliques. Therefore, parents need to be extra aware of what unifies the friendships their kids cling to. These “unifiers” are sometimes deeply guarded secrets that can be destructive. Thus in this very connected world, parents must be vigilant to paying attention to what (and when) their kids communicate about with their peers.
Wanting to belong certainly motivates kids to form cliques. So does our silly need to continually compare & contrast, and measure ourselves against each other developing a false sense of superiority (or inferiority) . Kids measure themselves in all sorts of ways: who is taller, thinner, prettier, smarter, more athletic, a better singer/speaker, stronger test scores, a higher GPA, more friends, better phone, nicer car, cuter boy/girlfriend, etc.
We adults do it too! Women especially are prone to comparing looks with others (size, hair, make up, jewelry, clothes, nails). But we also size up homes, cars, jobs, husbands, boyfriends – the list goes on and on. This internal measuring rod certainly does not encourage nice thoughts towards others; nor does it promote healthy relationships. Rather it can serve up jealousy, which is downright ugly, destructive and self centered.
At the root of all this is insecurity – which results from basing our identity in false ideals.
Many times we form unrealistic expectations for ourselves and for others. Then when things don’t happen for us the way we want them to and someone else gets the position-or promotion-or grade-or attention that we were after, we become jealous. Why not me? Why not my child? While it indicates a sense of entitlement, the root issue is still insecurity. We will never gain security out of how we measure up against others. Never.
When we wish we had what others have, when we want to be what others are, we fail to be grateful and we fail to be who God created us to be.
As parents, we need to stop comparing ourselves to others. And we need to stop comparing our children against other kids. Stop worrying about YOU. Teach your kids to stop worrying about themselves and find a way to be a blessing to someone else instead. A focus on others will begin to change one’s internal priorities like nothing else and will form a true sense of security, because it’s the way of Jesus and the path by which we become who God calls us to be.
Cliques do the opposite. They result from and fuel the need to feel superior. They promote more comparing and contrasting and they stimulate discord, gossip and backbiting. Cliques oppose the unity intended to be shared among Christians.
Is it possible to form NICE cliques?
Can kids form friendship groups based on values that esteem others? While we are to be loving and accepting, the Bible also warns us to stay away from those who sow discord and strife. Thus it stands to reason that we can be both inclusive AND selective with regard to the standards we purpose to uphold within our friendship groups. Christians certainly need to encourage friendships based on ideals that are different from the culture around us. Try using this acronym to teach you kids about how they can develop wholesome relationships with their peers:
N: Notice others
I: Include others
C: Compliment others
E: Encourage others
Everyone wants to be noticed or matter to others. Giving attention to others is a powerful yet simple way to bless anyone. Chances are that each time you step outside of your front door, you will find opportunities to acknowledge others and pay attention to someone. And it’s amazing how simple acknowledgements can uplift someone; the neighbor across the street, the UPS delivery person, the child riding by on his bike. Encourage your kids to notice other who fall outside their circle of friends and interests. Doing so will enlarge their own experience in the process.
Be hospitable and welcoming to all and not just to a chosen few. It’s about being friendly. Practically speaking, we only have time to cultivate a few genuine friendships but purpose to enlarge the circle of who you bless and reach out to. A tight knit group of friends can still be friendly to those outside their circle and include others into their social activities from time to time. It may make all the difference in the life of a discouraged individual.
Rather than seek compliments for themselves, expect your kids to give compliments, even to those who out perform them or gain something they themselves had wanted. Encourage the to say nice things especially to those who tend to be overlooked time and time again. Insecure individuals find it difficult to compliment however. It’s feels like giving away something one doesn’t possess. Yet affirming others is a powerful way to gain a stronger sense of security in return. Blessing others becomes a blessing.
Encourage your kids to look for ways to uplift others, to be a source of positive motivation for their friends. A true friend is one who makes you a better person. Encourage friendships for your kids that inspire in both directions. Teach them to be mindful of their words which have the capacity to change lives. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21).
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.