Friendships can foster important psychological and social growth. During late childhood and early adolescence, friends start to gather in a loose-knit collection of members called a peer group. Within these larger peer groups are smaller, tightly organized peer cliques. Peer cliques consist of a small group of close friends, about three to ten, whose members typically resemble one another in family background, attitudes, and values (Ennett, Bauman, and Kock 1996). Cliques, by their likes and dislikes and social status, for example, often constitute “the popular” and “unpopular” groups. Cliques provide a context for acquiring new social skills and for experimenting with values and social roles in the absence of parental monitoring.
Cliques formed early in childhood typically consist of same-sex members; they later begin to diversify, with an increase in mixed-gender cliques in middle and later adolescence (Dunphy 1963; Hartup 1996). Dexter Dunphy’s classic study of Australian adolescent cliques suggests that cliques prepare adolescents for the heterosocial world. Cliques vary in size, but remain small enough to allow frequent interaction among members. Researchers have identified different membership positions within a clique, including a member who affiliates exclusively with the group and a liaison who connects with various other cliques (Ennett and Bauman 1994). Organized around activities, ethnicity, or self-selected friendships, cliques appear to remain stable; instead of dissolving as members leave, cliques replace old members with new members who uphold the group norms (Brown and Klute 2003). Paul Zisman and Vernon Wilson found that when cliques were more tightly organized, they are less likely to include multiple ethnic groups (1992). In most peer cliques a group leader (or leaders) emerges to exercise authority over the group and enforce group norms (Adler and Adler 1995; Dunphy 1963).
A peer clique can be a powerful socializing agent. In a seven-year study of peer cliques of middle-class, European American fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, Patricia and Peter Adler found that clique leaders ridiculed and belittled outsiders and low-status group members, and encouraged other members to act in a similar manner (Adler and Adler 1995). Likewise, Jay Macleod’s 1987 observation of late adolescent boys revealed similar teasing and ridicule of outside members. Group norms and socialization become more precarious when they are marked by homogenous aggressiveness and delinquent behaviors (Cairns and Cairns 1994). Research has demonstrated that antisocial behavior is associated with involvement in deviant peer cliques from early to middle adolescence (Stormshak et al. 2005). Young adolescents form groups based on their similarities in terms of deviance and delinquency.
Importantly, not all cliques are negative or socialize children to act aggressively. Some research suggests that cliques can be a significant predictor of adolescents’ psychological well-being (Hansell 1985; Gauze, Bukowski, Aquan-Assee 1996; Ladd, Kochenderfer, and Coleman 1997). According to researchers, friendships and peer acceptance into the larger group can provide social and emotional support and create a sense of connectedness to the group. Thus, social development and well-being, apparent in factors such as decreased loneliness, are enhanced in positive peer relations. According to Jeffery Parker and Steven Asher, children benefit from being accepted by the group (1993).
SEE ALSO Acting White; Peer Relations Research
Adler, Patricia A., and Peter Adler. 1995. Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Preadolescent Cliques. Social Psychology Quarterly 58 (3): 145–162.
Brown, B. Bradford, and Christa Klute. 2003. Friendships, Cliques, and Crowds. In Blackwell Handbook of Adolescence, eds. Gerald R. Adams and Michael D. Berzonsky, 330–345. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Dunphy, Dexter C. 1963. The Social Structure of Urban Adolescent Peer Groups. Sociometry 26: 230–246.
Ennett, Susan T., and Karl E. Bauman. 1994. The Contribution of Influence and Selection to Adolescent Peer Group Homogeneity in: The Case of Adolescent Cigarette Smoking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67: 653–663.
Ennett, Susan T., Karl E. Bauman, and Gary G. Kock. 1996. Variability in Cigarette Smoking within and between Adolescent Friendship Cliques. Addictive Behaviors 19: 295–305.
Gauze, Cyma, William M. Bukowski, and Jasmine Aquan-Assee. 1996. Interactions between Family Environment and Friendship and Associations with Self-Perceived Well-Being during Adolescence. Child Development 67: 2201–2216.
Hansell, Stephen. 1985. Adolescent Friendship Networks. Social Forces 63: 698–715.
Hartup, Willard W. 1996. The Company They Keep: Friendships and Their Developmental Significance. Child Development 67 (1): 1–13.
Ladd, Gary W., Becky J. Kochenderfer, and Cynthia C. Coleman. 1997. Classroom Peer Acceptance, Friendship, and Victimization: Distinct Relational Systems That Contribute Uniquely to Children’s Social Adjustment? Child Development 68: 1181–1197.
Macleod, Jay. 1987. Ain’t No Making It: Leveled Aspirations in Low Income Neighborhoods. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Parker, Jeffery G., and Steven R. Asher. 1993. Friendship and Friendship Quality in Middle Childhood: Links with Peer Group Acceptance and Feelings of Loneliness and Social Dissatisfaction. Developmental Psychology 29: 611–621.
Stormshak, Elizabeth A., Thomas J. Dishion, John Light, and Miwa Yasui. 2005. Implementing Family Centered Interventions within the Public Middle School: Linking Service Delivery to Change in Student Problem Behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 33: 723–733.
Zisman, Paul, and Vernon Wilson. 1992. Table Hopping in the Cafeteria: An Exploration of “Racial” Integration in Early Adolescent Social Groups. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 23: 199–220.