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TTechniques for Teens Experiencing Harrassment by Peers
6 CEUs Techniques for Teens being Harassed by Cliques

Section 13
Essential Differences between Cliques and the "In-Crowd"

Question 13 | Test | Table of Contents | Bullying CEU Courses
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Cliques. Clique members often share similar attitudes and behavior patterns, due in part to the influence clique members have on each other. However, it also arises from selective entry and selective exit from the clique. Sociometric studies with repeated measurement of friendship nominations typically find substantial turnover. These studies also indicate students are often part of more than one friendship circle or clique.  Students uncomfortable with the norms and behavior of a particular clique need not join. If they discover other clique members heading down a path they don't like, they can shift their time and attention to another circle of friends, or try to develop new friends. Consequently, high school students must be viewed as choosing the normative environment of their clique. However, selection is not the sole reason that clique members are similar in attitudes and behavior. Cliques have norms and expectations for behavior. For example, a female student describes one such norm: "No getting smacked at a party, because how would it look for the rest of us if you're drunk and acting like a total fool? And if you do hook up with somebody at the party, please try to limit it to one. Otherwise, you look like a slut and that reflects badly on all of us. Kids are not that smart. They're not going to make distinctions between us."  Damico studied effects of clique membership on academic achievement at a university lab school in Florida. Through 40 hours of observation in a six-month period, and interviews with teachers and students, she charted the clique structure of the school's ninth grade. Aptitude test scores were unrelated to clique membership. Nevertheless, the clique a student was in was a better predictor of GPA than an aptitude test taken during the year.

Crowds. Some stereotypic identities or crowds are respected by most of the students at school. In most schools, the Jocks, Preppies, and Populars represent identities that carry prestige and bring power. Other crowds -- Freaks, Goths, Losers, Druggies, Nerds -- represent the bottom of the status hierarchy. There also are other crowds whose status vary by school.

Boundaries Between Crowds/Cliques
Crowds represent different "identity prototypes" reflecting "different lifestyles and value systems." One young woman explained: "I usually sit at the same place, with the same people. But then we usually walk around and talk to other people. I'll go and talk to the guys. But then the other girls, I don't really talk to 'cause it's weird. It's weird 'cause they're them and we're us. I can't explain it."  Crowd affiliation is most fluid at transition between schools, such as entry into middle school or transferring between schools. Many students said they were aware of their crowd assignment, and the assignment of most of their friends, within a month or so after they started middle school. Many were not happy with the stereotypic identity they were assigned, and tried for the next couple of years to escape. However, once classmates categorize you, changing categorization is difficult. In small schools changing one's crowd essentially involves convincing classmates you have become a different person. Downward mobility is easy for them to recognize. Upward mobility is harder to accomplish.  Barriers to entry into high-status crowds are often substantial. Most student leaders in these predominantly White, upper-middle class suburban high schools were from high-status, all-rounder crowds (called "Preps" in many schools). These crowds are probably the hardest to get into. Entry typically requires one demonstrate achievement in both academics and a respected extracurricular activity. At most schools, President of the Science Club did not qualify. For most preps interviewed, participation in interscholastic athletics rounded out their resume and made them eligible for the prep crowd. Cool clothes also were necessary. Though a barrier for students from modest circumstances, most families in these communities could afford the additional cost of fashionable clothes.

Some activity-based crowds form around teams -- cheerleaders, traveling soccer teams, auditioned choirs, "Thespians," Math Olympics, Debate Team, and Chess Team - that require tryouts and auditions. Most high school athletic teams, by contrast, are open to anyone. Joining a team and showing up regularly at practice may gain one admission to the crowd associated with that team. However, practices typically require 10 to 15 hours a week, so students are unlikely to join if they do not enjoy the sport. If not good at the sport, the student may not be accepted into the crowd and become the focus of jokes. At large high schools, playing time may be limited. In effect, such young people may be exchanging a respected position in a low-status crowd, such as the "Brains," for a disrespected role in a high-status crowd such as the Jocks or Preps. Many students probably doubt such an exchange would improve their status.  Admission to high-status crowds with a fun ideology such as the "populars," is typically by invitation. Even during the 'wannabe' phase when the aspirant is trying to become friends with members of the crowd, the "hangout time commitment" can be substantial and no certainty of success exists. In addition, aspirants must demonstrate to the crowd that they buy into the crowd's view of what is cool, who is cool, and who is not cool. As such, an aspirant may need to abandon former friends.  These last two items are a price that everyone seeking to change crowd affiliation must pay. Deviant low-status crowds, according to students, are more accepting of new recruits than high-status crowds. However, they expect new members to honor the values and norms held by the other members of the crowd and to engage in the behaviors and wear the clothes characteristic of the crowd. Indeed, changing crowds can be costly and uncertain. But staying in a denigrated identity is more costly. What are the costs?  Students rejected by peers are targets of harassment and bullying. In surveys in 1998/1999, 13.1% of boys and 6.7% of girls were "teased, insulted, or made fun of to my face" "almost every day." Another 19.5% of boys and 13.3% of girls were insulted to their face "about once a week." In addition, 16% of boys and 12.7% of girls indicated that "almost every day" they were "insulted or made fun of behind your back." If these rates of peer harassment in EEA schools represent the nation, 2.3 million secondary school students were directly insulted just about every day they came to school that year. Another 3.9 million students had about a one in five chance of being insulted to their face on any given day. Physical confrontations are less common. Almost 4% of students (an estimated 890,000 students) report being "pushed, tripped, or hurt by other students" almost every day. Another 4.3% report it happens about once a week. What is causing this peer harassment epidemic?

Bullies. Some students believe they gain prestige from other students by harassing and humiliating weaker, less-popular students. They entice victims to their clique, then surprise them with insults. One middle school student, trying to make sense of the behavior, said: "Maybe they like to prove to their friends that they're cool, that they can put someone else down without [being put down themselves]." While other qualities -- good in sports, outgoing, funny, or attractive -- are more important; playing and winning the dominance game is, for some boys, a way of trying to gain respect and prestige.

Becoming a Pariah. Being a nerd is like having a communicable disease. One middle school student said: "If a 'nerd' goes over and sits next to a jock or somebody who's really popular... - it doesn't happen very often - they would probably tell him to leave." Students avoid hanging out with the student since it sends a signal they are a nerd as well. Thus, students who are labeled as outcasts find it difficult to make new friends, and often lose old friends, which limits their ability to develop social skills that can help them get out of their predicament.

Submissive Outcasts. To maximize the humiliation, submissive male outcasts are typically harassed in presence of other students. Humiliation comes not so much from harassment, all students get harassed to some extent, but from lack of an aggressive response. Friends of victims seldom intervene in defense, and sometimes join in the harassment in a joking manner. Friends are trying to escape their own outcast identity and fear that sticking up for a friend will prevent their escape. They fail to realize that not defending a friend simply stigmatizes them as cowards.  Non-aggressive outcasts generally are smaller and weaker than kids who harass them, so a "You Wanna Fight" response is seldom chosen. Another reason why they do not respond by starting a fight is they have been told by parents and teachers not to respond to insults by fighting. They do not want to lose the favorable opinion of teachers, the only people in the school who they feel are on their side.

Looking Different. One student said: "This kid in our grade [10th grade] is really weird looking. He has really big ears and is really tall, really awkward looking. One of the seniors called him 'dumbo' and really hurt his feelings. He was crying. I laughed, only because it was funny. But that kid [the senior] got [the same treatment] back... when he was a freshman. They made him stand up on the table in his boxers and sing 'I'm a little teapot'."

Small Size. At Newport Junction High School, a female spent a great deal of time playing sports ( 15-19 hours a week) and hanging out ( 10-14 hours a week). Nevertheless: "I'm picked on all the time because of my size. I guess it's supposed to be a joke, although sometimes I care...Just because I'm smaller, they know they can make fun of me. I'm not really upset - just angry." Powerful support for the proposition that stature and social status during high school influences later success in the labor market comes from Persico, Postlewaite, and Silverman who demonstrated conclusively that in both Britain and the United States height as a teen-ager effects future earnings. When adolescent height was controlled, adult height and height at ages seven and 11 had no effect. Almost one-half of the effect of adolescent height on adult earnings was due to its impact on adolescent self-esteem and participation in extracurricular activities.

Consequences of Peer Harassment. Harassment induces some victims to withdraw from social interaction. Harassed students respond by avoiding the people and situations inflicting the harassment. Classmates laugh at something they say in class, so they do not participate in class discussions. Some try to become invisible, walking quickly from class to class avoiding opportunities to socialize. Often they avoid participating in after-school activities, and leave for home as soon as school dismisses. Such a response, however, makes things worse. When 60,000 students at EEA schools were asked if "Studying a lot tends to make you less popular," only 18% agreed. But 60% agreed with the proposition that "Not spending time to socialize and hang out tends to make you less popular." The climate of intimidation and threat of harassment also can induce withdrawal.

- Bishop, John H., Bishop, Matthew, Bishop, Michael, Gelbwasser, Lara, Green, Shanna, Peterson, Erica, Rubinsztaj, Anna, Zuckerman, Andrew; Why We Harass Nerds and Freaks: A Formal Theory of Student Culture and Norms.  Journal of School Health, Sep2004, Vol. 74, Issue 7

Personal Reflection Exercise #6
The preceding section contained information regarding essential differences between cliques and the "in-crowd". Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

What did Damico’s study reveal about the connection between clique membership and academic achievement? Record the letter of the correct answer the Test

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