"I am starting back to middle school this week and am scared. All summer I have been busy with my family, and a few good friends, and have not gotten into any trouble. Now I am going back to school and am worried about some of my “School Friends.” Last year, I got into some trouble because I just could not tell them no. No one understands how hard it is to say no. Once when I did not go along with something, they called me names and started rumors about me. It took a long time to get back on their good side, but now I do not trust any of them and I have to see them every day. I dread going back. What can I do?" – I’m in Middle School H-E-“Double Hockey Sticks”!!!!!!
Middle school can be difficult. This is often when children start to form cliques (exclusive groups) so they feel like they belong. Sometimes teens/adults will gravitate to a group just to have friends; even if they do not like how the group behaves.
According to Nancy Gubman, LCSW in NYC, this is how bullying can begin. Ms. Gubman said, “I can hear how much you want to continue to do what you think is right and not do things because of peer pressure. If you do what you believe is right and others make fun of you, leave you out of group activities, or do anything that makes you uncomfortable, you shouldn't be alone with this. It's very important to talk to your parents, a trusted teacher, and that your parents get involved with the school. It should be made clear to all students that respecting differences is a key part of growing into a responsible adult. It makes sense that you're nervous and not feeling secure there. If you know your parents/teachers will support you, you may start to feel less nervous.”
I agree with Ms. Gubman and you should seek help from an adult. In the meantime, here are some suggestions for dealing with a clique:
- Don't blame yourself. It’s okay to make changes to feel happier/healthier, but don't change just to “fit in”.
- Make friends. There are plenty of people outside of any group. Make friends with kids that aren't part of a clique, or are younger/older/outside of school. Be friendly, don't discriminate when others look/act differently, and welcome others to talk to you.
- Speak up. If your group of friends has turned into a clique, don't be afraid to speak up. It's okay to want to invite others to hang-out. Just be prepared, the clique may move on without you.
I remember a young girl (“Jenny”) I worked with recently. She confided with me that she was hungry every day at school because none of her friends where in her lunch period and she was afraid of the lunchroom cliques. Jenny said, “I never went back (to the lunchroom) after the first day. After nervously getting my lunch, I scanned all the tables and found some people in my classes. I went to a table with a “friend” from English and asked if I could sit but another girl said, “no”, with a nasty face. I was so humiliated. I rushed to another table with a girl I knew, and she said she was saving the seats. Now, I could feel my face getting hot and my eyes were blurring with tears. I tried sitting at the table in the corner, but another boy saw me crying, and he pointed and laughed. I was so humiliated I threw-out my lunch and cried outside.”
I asked her if she ever spoke with her parents/teacher about this and she said, “No way! I was too humiliated.”
I encouraged Jenny to talk with her parents and soon I began to hear her talking positively about school. I asked her why and she said, “Talking it through with my mom and dad helped. They encouraged me to find another classmate that was in my lunch period and suggest we sit together at lunch. It worked and now I’ve made a few more friends.”
Please feel free to leave your comments below and send you’re parenting questions (and curiosities/observations) to ParentsRTalking@gmail.com.