Guest Author - Beverly Patchell
It is a fact of life that adolescents like to be with groups of their contemporaries. It can be for a specific purpose, such as seeing a movie or going to a sporting event, or just to hang out and watch what others are doing, gossip, and talk about their lives. Cliques are usually small groups of exclusive friends who attempt to set styles, rules, or modes of behavior. Peer groups also assign a particular status and reputation to each member and not all are considered equal in the group. There are unwritten rules for admission to the group and loyalty to the group's activities is a primary one. At times the rules for admission can get out of hand and will be reported by the media as hazing. This can result in unpleasant consequences for those involved and are something parents can be aware of through knowledge of the kinds of groups their adolescents are involved with and by discussing these possibilities in a matter-of-fact manner.
Having these groups to be involved with is "proof" of acceptance by other teenagers. It is an important part of adolescent development to try out these different groups and their own belief systems and rules for behavior evolve. But what happens if your adolescent wants to change peer groups of withdraw from one because they do not want to conform to the rules? Will they know how to do that without help? Answering these questions may depend on the age and maturity of the adolescent and being able to do it may be an important milestone in their progression through adolescence.
An adolescent's choice of peer group depends largely on their earlier life experiences, their self-esteem, self-reliance, religious affiliation, ethnic background and economic status. Peer groups can also reflect and reinforce their family's values and beliefs and help the adolescent to integrate them into their character. Knowing your adolescent's friends and the groups they are involved with will help you know what they are being exposed to and how this fits or does not fit with how you would like them to develop.