5 SIGNS YOUR CHILD IS TRAPPED IN A TOXIC FRIENDSHIP GROUP
1. OUTSIDERS ARE NOT WELCOMED.
Your child wants to invite other children to her/his birthday party who are outside of the "friendship circle" and were told they were not allowed to by the children inside the friendship circle. Your child might even ask to have two separate birthday parties: one to host the clique and one to host everyone else.
2. INDIVIDUALITY IS NOT ACCEPTED.
Cliques enforce strict "conformity" rules (i.e. everyone must like the color "purple"... everyone must like a certain kind of music... everyone must do similar activities such as a particular sport or hobby...everyone must dress a certain way...etc.) When your child practices their own individuality that goes against the conformity of the group, they risk rejection from the friendship group.
3. WORDS ARE WEAPONS.
Cliques/Toxic friendship groups spend the majority of their time together talking poorly about others outside of the group or other members of the group who are not present at the time. Chronic gossip and trash talking are not social norms among childhood friendship groups. In fact, it's a sign of a toxic community.
4. SILENT TREATMENT IS USED TO GAIN CONTROL.
One moment your child is "in" the group and the next moment he/she hasn't heard from anyone in a few days and wonders what they have done wrong. Clique's use the silent treatment to control and reinforce co-dependency. Usually, the queen bee (or narcissistic leader of the clan) will be the first to execute the silent treatment initiative while the others follow suit.
5. LOYALTY IS GIVEN TO THE GROUP ALONE AND NEVER TO AN INDIVIDUAL MEMBER OF THE GROUP .
When member hurts another member in a clique/toxic friendship group, no one stands up or speaks up about the offense. The offense is overlooked because loyalty is to the group and not to a person. Cliques not address conflict within the group. They will take up battles against outsides but they will not directly hash out any relational conflict between themselves. Either they will force out a member with the silent treatment or they will passive aggressively attack his/her intellect, physically appearance, interested, family dynamic, economic status, etc.... until that members gets the message, "YOU ARE NO LONGER ONE OF US."
What do you do if your child is trapped in a clique?
1. Remember YOU are the parent and YOU can help.
Parents, you are NOT powerless against your child's toxic friendship group. You can help your child exit an abusive social circle by limiting the opportunities your child spends with them, introducing your child to other social circles through extracurricular activities, placing boundaries on smart phone usage at home (i.e. phones off by 9pm, utilizing tools like the Circle, limiting social media apps, etc.) and having a frank conversation with your kid, "Your friends are not nice to you. You need new friends."
Many parents feel like that they cannot interfere with who their children chooses to be friends with and often assume that other children are "harmless" because they are
"just children". If you suspect your child is suffering because they are trapped in a clique, do something. Get outside help with counseling. Have an honest conversation with your child. Help them connect to others. Oh, and be their friend. Yea... I just said it. And I'll say it again...
2. Be your kid's friend.
You can be both an healthy leader in your child's life and an example of a healthy friend. I think this idea of "parents cannot be friends with their children" is not only pure bologna... it's damaging. Children need to have examples of what a healthy friend looks like...and guess what ... that example should be you. Have fun with your child! Take them out ice-cream! Allow yourself to laugh with them! Run around on the playground and play tag with them. Practice appropriate vulnerability with them (example: Your child notices that you are down after a long day at work. They ask you if you are okay. An appropriate vulnerable response would be: "I feel a little down today because work was really hard. Do you ever feel down when school is hard? What makes me feel better is spending time with you/going for a long walk/enjoying a bubble bath/etc." Appropriate vulnerability models to children how to name feelings and take proactive steps to navigate them).
There may come a time when your child is kicked out of their clique and you might just be their only friend for a season. So, be it...and be a dang good one,
3. Do not be deceived: Academic intelligence will get your child to college but social intelligence will get them through college.
Invest your child's social intelligence. If you are child is repeatedly finding themselves in toxic social groups, utilize the help of a therapist. If your child seems to always be in the midst of friendship drama, teach them the importance of healthy friendship. Do not turn a blind eye and only be concerned about what is going to get them into college (academic, sports, extracurricular activities,volunteer work, etc.) Care about their social well being too. College can be wonderful or it can be awful and often ... what determines one way or the other is... friendship.
[ For more on cliques, listen to Friending Podcast's Episode 53 ]