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Kids And Cliques: Ins and Outs of the In-Crowd

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


Every grade has one: the popular group. These are the kids who are the trendsetters. Lots of kids do what they do and want what they have. In-crowd wanna-bes vie for the attention of the popular kids and are happy or not depending on how included they feel.

Then there are the Populars themselves. They may not have any idea why they are admired and imitated but mostly they’re pleased to be the center of attention. For some Populars, this status is a bargaining chip, useful in getting Wanna-bes to save them seats on the bus.

And always there are the Outs. These kids are on the margins, maybe by choice, maybe not. However they landed on the Outside, the Outs are everything the Populars are not.

Whether your child is a member of the in-group or in its orbit or so far removed from the in-group he might be in a different universe, the activity of this clique is important to you as a parent.  While you cannot manage what the in-group does, you can influence how its actions affect your child.

Your Popular Child. With great power comes great responsibility. Your task as the parent of a popular child is to make this point and help your child keep some perspective. He may have the makings of a natural leader, but it’s important that he have the character of a great one.

This is not easy for a young person, who might believe he is admired for his good looks, his God-given athletic ability, or his economic advantages. Since none of these are qualities he did anything to acquire, a sense of humility is in order. And, also, since none of these qualities is sufficient to lead others, he has to cultivate the behaviors that are: kindness, helpfulness, generosity of spirit, and compassion. You’ve got to help your Popular child to keep it real.

Your Wanna-Be Child. Aspiring to be something one is not and has little ability to become is a frustrating path. Your task as the parent of a child who desperately wants to be included among the most popular kids is to help her see alternative paths and to value the path she is on right now.

To do this right, it’s important to say nothing bad about the popular kids. They didn’t ask for their status any more than asking has been successful for your own child. But at the same time, try not to join in the hero-worship. This means you won’t try to manipulate things to position your child more favorably or contribute to the impulse to imitate. Instead you will continue to admire and celebrate the great kid you have and to help her become a sought-after friend in her own way.

Your Outsider Child. Your outsider child might be completely unconcerned by all the attention the Populars get. This child may be marching to a different drummer in a perfectly satisfied way and that’s great. Support this and be careful not to wish your child was “more” anything. If your child is happy, be happy too.

But your Outsider child might be marching to the Popular tune, just in the opposite direction. Pay attention if your child isn’t oblivious to the popular group but instead seems to be actively striving to define its flip-side. Assuming that the popular group is reasonably law-abiding, your Outsider child’s efforts to define herself as completely not-In may lead her on a dangerous course. Notice if your Outsider-and-Flaunting-It kid has her own clique composed of the most-dodgy classmates.

No matter what your child’s spot in the kids social order, don’t be complacent. Pay attention and provide guidance if guidance seems needed.


©2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.