Let’s make a pact – a contract. Yes, you and me. This story is about trying to prevent one of the most difficult situations a young person can face. Peer pressure is one thing. And wanting to be accepted is another. But a clique, in its worse sense of the word, can be devastating for some child or youth who feels they don’t fit in – anywhere! Let’s break it down…..and then try to do something that will help our young understand and decide for themselves what’s right and what’s not.
First of all, we must realize that cliques start early. I’m not talking about high school, or junior high, or even elementary school. I’m talking really young. If you’re around very small children, you will have noticed the tendency for 2 or 3 of them to constantly gather together, wanting to be with only those, saying “no” to any others, verbally or through body language, making it quite clear that no one else is invited, and please don’t try to interrupt us while we’re playing! Now I know this sounds humorous, but it’s true – we “group” ourselves early on. There’s nothing wrong with being a part of a group – in fact, every child needs to feel a part of something. The thing that’s wrong with this is the exclusivity that starts – innocently enough- but it does begin very early in every life.
Nothing could be much worse in my mind than being a parent of a child who is shunned at school – because he’s not bright enough, doesn’t wear the right clothes, has a different color of skin, stutters, is clumsy, isn’t athletic, always comes up with wrong answers to obviously easy questions, and the list goes on. Does that make a certain child pop into your mind? Have you had to deal with that? Reassurances from Mom and Dad are great – but the peer pressure trumps those family kindnesses every time.
Now here’s another difference between excluding and including. If you’re on any kind of team, a cheerleader, a pep club member, member of the science, debate, speech, math club – these are “organizations” within themselves. You wouldn’t want to be in the cheerleading group if you didn’t know how to cheer, or in the math club if you couldn’t add or subtract. These are activity-based groups – no involving of including or excluding. There are rules to follow, expectations to meet, and members around you who foster the same attitudes and knowledge that you do.
So how do we avoid the problem with our children and teens regarding those other types of groups –you know, the ones who get to “choose” who makes the “A-list”?? Let’s first decide which things would constitute a clique versus just a “group”. You’re in a group just by being a junior in high school – you’re in the junior class “group”. But what if you’re surrounded by the kinds of groups who don’t want you because they make it very clear you’re not invited “in”, perhaps make fun of you, gossip about you, etc.? Why do they feel so “entitled”, and assume that another is not? How do we instruct our children to not be mortified if they’re not included? But more importantly, how do we teach our kids about NOT being a part of a clique that can absolutely destroy the self-confidence and well-being of another? There’s some religious teaching that can go on here – I just feel it.
Jesus said “Let the little children come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”. I don’t remember anything about Him letting children into that group only if their parents weren’t slaves, or they wore the right sandals, or spoke beautifully in front of a group – do you? Exclusivity creates one of the most hurtful things I can think of. Not only does it hurt when you realize it’s happening, but when you see it in action – you are left out – “just because”, it is excruciating. Explain that to a high school junior. Explain it to an adult. Experiencing the pain of being excluded isn’t reserved just for kids – grown-ups feel it too.
Being included is one of the best feelings I can think of. And it doesn’t just have to do with school kids. Companies forget to include, as do organizations, churches, offices, social clubs, neighborhoods, and more. There’s no better way to say this – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Seriously. Pour yourself into the role of one being excluded, and decide how it feels.
May we teach our kids the kindness of being inclusive of others, of not shunning or ignoring, and let’s make sure they understand why they’re being asked to learn this lesson. Jesus included EVERYBODY in his group, didn’t he? People that others could not stand to be near – smelly people, tax-collecting people, fishermen – really? If Jesus stuck up for the shunned, then He truly was following His own Golden Rule. Jesus didn’t form a clique – he formed a small group of followers, who would follow Him right into danger, and then out into the world after He was gone, amid torture, beatings, imprisonment, beheadings. That wasn’t a clique. That was a “group”, a carefully, God-planned group of people who became friends – not only of each other despite ridiculously differing backgrounds – but of Christ, the all-inclusive Savior. And Jesus, in his enormity of heart, taught each of them to “include”. Encourage your children to make a place for everyone. No one shunned, or belittled, or excluded – but included – just because. They are children of God, as are we all.
Let’s pray that we can help our young people explore the negative concept of forming or being involved in self-absorbed cliques that sometimes cruelly exclude others. Let us pray that they will understand and enjoy the benefits in their hearts when they concentrate on making others feel the best they possibly can feel about themselves. We all need to pay attention to those around us – open our ears, our eyes, and our hearts to those who seek to be noticed and welcomed. Nix the cliques. Thriving will be arriving.
“The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance…….the Lord does not look at the things that man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. 1Samuel 16:7