As the adult sibling of a 13-year old who has been targeted as "her clique's doormat" for the past three years, I am all too familiar with malicious clique behavior and the devastating effect it can have on a child's self-esteem. So it was with great hope that I picked up this book, expecting to find a miracle solution that would end the exclusion and nastiness that leave my sister in tears and my stomach in knots. I thought I would find a way to teach my sister to reject the clique system and want to hang out with the nicer crowd. I hoped for some little tip that, when implemented by my sister, would stop the harassment for good.
But rather than encouraging a child to buck the system or shun rigid social order, the authors recommend ways to help your child accept his or her place in this order and feel confident and happy with who he/she is. Although I was taken aback at first, I came to realize this does not mean passively accepting bullying behavior; it simply means focusing on the way things are and working on the things you can change rather than attempting to stop bullying at its source, which is beyond the ability of a picked-upon child or his/her parents. Yes, there are tactics for undermining the power of the ringleader and, of course, there is advice for when parents need to step in. But the book overwhelmingly conveys that cliques are a way of life and that the best a parent can do is to teach their child how to deal with them, not transcend them.
Readers may agree or disagree with this; I personally found it a very hard truth to swallow. But I finally realized that the authors are right -- my sister might be miserable with the friends she has, but she does not want different friends, and I cannot convince her otherwise. I am also powerless to change the behavior of other people's children -- the instigators, the ringleaders, the bullies. But I can encourage my sister to change the way she reacts to the hurtful words and actions. I can encourage her to value true friendship and to take a proactive role in choosing friends based on merit rather than circumstance or popularity in the future.
Chapters for parents of bullies or ringleaders and bystanders (whose lack of action either way supports clique behavior), make Cliques an invaluable read for every parent. If all parents -- regardless of the role their child plays in the social order -- take more of an interest in their child's social landscape and try to put a stop to harmful behavior, perhaps cliques will cease be such an inescapable part of growing up. But until then, the best a parent (or other family member or loved one) can do is offer the right kind of support and gently guide a child toward more constructive social behavior. This book is an excellent place to find the tools for the task.