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Cliques and Fitting In

There is a difference between social acceptance and personal acceptance. Finding one's personal identity is different than living with one's social identity. To distinguish between the two during early adolescence, kids need their parents' guidance.

The "Who am I?" quest is a personal assignment. What the peer group decrees is not the final verdict. "Who are you?" is a process of self-discovery.

Being alone -- not part of a clique -- is a reality that our sons and daughters likely are not comfortable with during early adolescence. It's up to us to help make them more comfortable. Talk about individual goals and performance. Inspire self-discovery. Define integrity as personal character and living according to a code of values. Integrity and personal dignity are commodities that cannot be taken away by anyone, even the most popular or powerful peer.

Social acceptance is another important issue for young adolescents. In your talks, your middle-schooler should get the message that "fitting in" actually hinges on conformity.

To your child, peers are the jury. But while he may often feel like the plaintiff, he is really the judge. While your child struggles with this need to belong and wrestles with balancing his personal and social selves, you can provide an invaluable framework. Your family, your home life, your child's bedroom -- these are domains that also deliver that sense of belonging he craves. Belonging counts, but so does personal acceptance. A child needs both.

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