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Being part of a group can help make life a lot easier. Some friend groups are pretty flexible and welcome people to join. But cliques are much more restricted, making it clear that not just anyone can be part of the crowd.

The good news is that most cliques disappear by the end of high school. In the meantime, here’s some information on cliques and how to handle them.

How Do Groups of Friends and Cliques Differ?

Groups of friends are different from cliques in some important ways:

  • Groups of friends form based on shared interests, sports, activities, classes, neighborhoods, or even family connections. Members are free to socialize and hang out with others outside the group without worrying about being cast out. They may not do everything together — and that’s OK.
  • Cliques sometimes form around common interests, but there’s often a strong focus on status or popularity. Cliques are usually tightly controlled by leaders who decide who’s "in" and who’s "out." The people in the clique do most things together. Someone who has a friend outside the clique may face rejection or ridicule.

What Can Help Me Deal With Cliques?

Whether you’re on the inside or the outside, cliques can make your life tough. But there are ways to cope:

  • Know yourself — and your reputation. If you’re in a clique, ask yourself if you want to be part of a group because you want to feel accepted or because you actually share its values. Has your group of friends morphed into something you don’t like? Based on who you’re friends with, do people think of you in a good or bad way? How does this make you feel? Are you proud of the way you and your friends treat others?
  • Stay involved in activities that make you feel good about yourself. Don’t let any group pressure you into giving up things you love or spending time and money on stuff that isn’t important to you. Find a sense of belonging and value by getting involved in things that interest you like sports, music, academic clubs, art, or theater. You can also volunteer outside of school. Check out places like animal shelters, hospitals, nursing homes, and community gardens.
  • Keep your social circles open and diverse. Sticking with one group of friends can limit you. Become friends with people you enjoy from different settings, backgrounds, and interests. You’ll learn a lot more about others. Look for people whose values, goals, and behaviors fit with yours. The support of good friends can give you a boost when you’re feeling down.
  • Stand up for yourself and others. Be sensitive to other people and don’t cave to negative peer pressure. You don’t have go along with something that doesn’t feel right — even if others are doing it. True friends aren’t bossy or demanding. They’ll respect your choices.
  • If you or someone you know is being bullied in person or online, tell a parent, school counselor, or teacher. Limit your time with people who are mean or gossip behind others’ backs. Stand up for people when you notice these behaviors.
  • Watch what you post online. Beware of online groups and cliques using social network sites. People can use them to invite only select friends to a get together, or make mean comments or posts. People can even build fake profiles. Keep your own profile private.

What Else Should I Know About Cliques?

Sometimes even clique members themselves want to leave. They may not like being limited by the rules, leaving others out, or hurting people’s feelings.

Rather than focusing on what social group you’re in, try to be a good friend to everyone. This means being respectful, interested, honest, and kind. Just be the sort of friend you’d like to have and stay true to who you are.

Medically reviewed by: Elenda T. Hessel, PhD
Date reviewed: June 2023