A clique is a social group most often seen in junior high or high school settings, and generally more often noted among girls than boys. However, adults can certainly belong to a clique as well, and one might see these characteristics displayed particularly in the upper echelons of society. The adult group might also be called a “set.”
Generally, the clique is organized among younger children by those who appear to have enough in common to befriend each other. Unfortunately, friendship can quickly give way to power struggle, peer pressure and ostracization of those outside the group. In fact, outsiders targeted by a clique may be subject to insults and bullying, which can be psychologically damaging.
Often the group has a defined leader, though leadership may change from time to time. The clique may extend informal membership to younger girls in order to perpetuate it beyond the original members remaining in a particular school setting. This group may be seen as the “in crowd," and may have a corresponding male group with which they exclusively socialize.
Though it is often thought that there can be only one clique in a school setting, cliques may organize along lines of interest. For example, cheerleaders may form one group while band kids may form another. Socially, pre-teens and teenagers appear to group within areas of interest, or access to each other. A clique may begin innocently enough with families who belong to the same social group or simply live near enough to each other to organize frequent play dates when children are young.
Difficulty exists for those outside any defined grouping. A non-cheerleader, non-band kid, may be challenged by not finding a large enough social group and may desperately wish to gain entry into a certain clique. This can be painful, and may make the person a target of its members.
A nasty part of this power structure may involve bullying, harassment, or playing jokes on non-clique members. Fear of no longer being part of the group may force children to behave in ways that are immensely hurtful to others. Failure to go along with the leaders, often called "queen bees," can result in becoming an outcast.
Many films have documented this type of infrastructure and its potentially destructive force in a social setting. Movies like Mean Girls, Heathers, and Jawbreaker all take a darkly comic view of the clique. Those who have been the victim of their politics many not find cliques a laughing matter.
Though some cliques may act in mean and emotionally destructive ways toward outsiders, others are far less threatening. Not every clique or member chooses to govern by being cruel to other people. They may simply not notice the needs of outsiders, which is often an insensitive, but not unusual, position of teenagers.
Cliques in their most innocent form may merely represent a group of friends who are envied for their social graces, wealth, or attractive qualities. The exclusive nature of the group is rather like a sorority in this respect. It can still be hurtful for those outside who wish to belong, but it may not be intentionally so.