How to Help Your High-Schooler Handle School Cliques

By Lexi Walters Wright

At a glance

  • Teens usually want to be more independent from their parents.

  • Friends and social cliques may matter more to teens than their family relationships do.

  • You can help your teen with learning and thinking differences handle his problems with cliques.

Teens often want to become more independent—from their parents. By the time they’re in high school, most kids have had lots of experience being in and around cliques. At this age, these cliques may mean more to them than family relationships. And while this is normal, it doesn’t always make life easy.

That’s especially true for kids with learning and thinking differences. These kids might have trouble getting into the clique they want. Or they may worry about remaining part of a group when it changes. Either way, teens have a lot to deal with as they navigate their way to adulthood. Read on for tips on how you might help your teen handle some common situations.

Help your teen find a place to fit in.

The scenario: Your teen has ADHD. She’s never had close friends. But now she feels like the only sophomore who doesn’t belong anywhere.

What you can do: Ask if there’s anything she thinks she might be doing that’s keeping her from making friends. Work with her on self-awareness and social skills. Focus on finding potential friends: Who does she talk to at the bus stop? Who sits near her in homeroom? And encourage her to join an activity she enjoys so she can meet like-minded teens.

Show your child how friendships can evolve.

The scenario: The crew your teen’s been friends with since kindergarten has joined the debate team. But your child has spoken language issues and is afraid her friends will drop her.

What you can do: Help your daughter think about how friendships can survive when circumstances change. Give examples from your life. “I’ve still got friends I used to play tennis with before I hurt my knee. We don’t play anymore but we have lunch every month.” Brainstorm with her about how she can stay connected with her old clique.

Encourage your teen to play to her strengths.

The scenario: Your teen always wanted to hang out with the cheerleaders. But when she gets up the nerve to try out, the captain asks nastily if she’s in the right place. Embarrassed, she leaves.

What you can do: Ask your teen to evaluate the experience. How might she have reacted differently? What was attractive about the cheerleaders before the tryouts? Has that changed?

Then help her retrench and consider her strengths. Brainstorm cool activities that would let her use them and meet people she might like.

Help your teen assess dating cues.

The scenario: Your teen and a boy her age became friends when he tutored her in English, and she’s got a crush. Now he dates popular girls. Your daughter feels like her reading issues mean she’s not cool enough for him.

What you can do: Coach your teen to consider her strengths. Why might her crush think she is cool? Help her examine any cues he’s given her about whether or not he’s interested. If he might be, brainstorm strategies for how she could tell him about her feelings.

Key takeaways

  • Reminding your child of her strengths may help build her confidence.

  • Joining an activity she enjoys can help your teen find friends with a common interest.

  • You may need to explain to your child how friendships can survive changes in circumstance.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.