Why Do Teenagers Join Cliques?

Adolescence is a bridge from childhood to adulthood. Along with a teen's physical development and emotional changes, his social awareness and connected social opportunities are evolving as well. These factors can contribute to the stress of a time of upheaval and change that may be unsettling for some young people. Some teens navigate these changes by joining a clique to fulfill some of their basic needs and desires.

Separating from Parents

Sometime between the ages of 9 and 12, the urge to separate and become more autonomous from parents becomes strong for adolescents, according to psychologist Joshua Mandel, writing for the NYU Child Study Center. Kids usually start to transfer connections away from parents and family to peers during the teen years. Cliques often give teens a group to belong to as they work toward creating their own identity separate from their family 2.

Finding a Social Niche

As a teen strives to define himself, a clique may be attractive because it can help him find his social niche -- the place where he feels accepted, supported and even protected by peers, says Mandel. Generally, cliques comprise a group of adolescents who have an interest or activity in common -- sports, science, fashion or drama, for example. In this light, cliques can help provide teenagers with a strong sense of identity.

Simple Friendships that Change

A group of friends often forms as teenagers come together through common interests or participation in various activities. A group of friends is generally more laid-back and flexible than a clique, with people joining or leaving the group as desired, suggests the TeensHealth website. What begins as simple friendship could change into a clique if the group becomes exclusionary and members begin controlling who joins and who leaves the group. The Wellspring Alliance in Louisiana notes that often one or two teens adopt positions of leadership and power over the other members in a clique, and the others are required to follow their lead. As the leaders begin discouraging members from associating with others outside of the group and enforcing specific activities, behaviors or ways of thinking in people who want to be a part of the group, teens may decide their current group of friends is more important to them than striking out on their own to form new friendships.

Fear of Being Alone

A teenager may experience strong fears of being ostracized if she doesn't join a clique, and may join one in order to avoid experiencing this negative social situation. However, even as cliques often engage in exclusionary tactics with others outside the clique, preventing members from socializing with these specific people, they also often ostracize fellow members who do not follow the rules set by the leaders of the clique. Even when there is conflict within a clique, teens may struggle to remain in the clique, believing that they will lose status and popularity if they leave it.