Tribes, Crews & Cliques…Oh My!

A list of 34 Rules for My Daughters popped up in my Facebook feed not too long ago.

I don’t have daughters, but welcome wisdom I can learn from or pass on to my boys. So I stopped scrolling and began to read.

I couldn’t get past number two.

  1. Find your tribe and love them hard. True friends are hard to find. 

True friends, forever friends are hard to find and are invaluable. If one is lucky enough to have a few, I agree, they deserve to be loved hard.

But what’s with the word tribe? Why does a daughter, son or any adult need one of these?

I hear and see this word and a similar expression, crew enough as it relates to social aspirations, comradery and acceptance to make me wonder. Adults tag other adults on social media and refer to them as their tribe. Educators and parents want to know if a child hangs with a crew. Members new to a community go on missions to find their people.

Perhaps this language and approach encourages, as an acquaintance once explained, a sense of normalcy. She said, “If I have a tribe. My children have a tribe. Then by society’s standards, we are both doing fine.”

Or perhaps it’s rooted in basic human desire. A co-producer and writer for the television show Cheers commented on CNN’s documentary, The Nineties that “The legacy of Cheers is our need to belong. I think that’s what we as Americans are longing for.”

I’m no different. Part of me regrets not joining a sorority in college. I still sometimes think what my teenage years would have been like had I traveled with one pack instead of moving in and out of many. As an adult, one reason I drag myself to a CrossFit gym is because there, everybody knows my name.

But let’s say a daughter does find her coveted tribe, what then? Is she expected to socialize exclusively with tribe members or is it acceptable to make outside friends? Can she invite new people to join? What happens if she doesn’t want to be friends with a person in the group? Does she lose her place? Can the daughter take up different activities? Carpool with anyone else? Sit at a lunch table alone?

Many schools, communities and households make a point to foster inclusivity. Formal curriculum has been developed to teach children to Be the Difference, Be the One and Fill Buckets.

Last year, our local middle school launched a program spearheaded by the student council which required students to sit with different peers during lunch on designated days. Gossip and devices were not permitted. A student facilitator joined the table to help spark conversation.

I was disappointed to hear a few parents privately voice concern. They didn’t like the idea of forcing a child to sit with non-friends during her one, free period. Students also complained. They wanted to socialize with like-minded people and not be told what to do, when and with whom.

This year, I’m not sure if the council tried again.

To me, the lunch table switch was a great idea. Maybe it’s because I’m a kumbaya kind of mom with a kid who’s typically okay with floating. Or maybe it’s because I believe it’s healthy for children to learn about others and productive to go out of one’s comfort zone. I figured students might be surprised to find they get along with peers who they may not expect. The reality is, at some point they’re going to be required to work and socialize with all sorts of personalities. Mind as well get comfortable in a wider circle now.

Find a tribe but Be the One. Be the Difference but stick with your people. Fill Buckets but hang with a crew. Reach out, but huddle tight. The mixed messages confuse me. My guess is, they also confuse daughters on the receiving end.

Advertising that real friendship is best achieved in the form of tribes and crews belittles benefits gained from casting a welcoming net, implies self-worth is predicated upon the group and is just using benign semantics to endorse clique mentality.

Oh my.



2 thoughts on “Tribes, Crews & Cliques…Oh My!

  1. Red, I love your thoughts on this topic. I’m going to throw my two cents in for what it’s worth. I have a daughter, now sixteen, and son, almost eighteen. I believe in the idea of a tribe because fitting in during a child’s critical years (middle through high school) is paramount. The children who are on the outside looking in are lonely, hurt, suffer from low self-esteem, act out, etc.

    If you watch the girls in middle school, they all look alike. They wear the “in” clothes, have the “in” gadgets. Fitting in is survival in middle school, especially for girls. Because for whatever reason, girls tend to be less inclusive than boys. Even though parents preach to be an individual, don’t jump off the bridge and all that, being the same means a child belongs.

    It takes some years, and for many, their entire lives, to figure out it takes courage to be authentic. In the meantime, we all need to know we fit in somewhere. That we’re not alone. That someone else sees the world the way we do.

    Having said that, I don’t believe in leaving children out just because. I’ve often told my kids to include someone at lunch or on the playground or the bus. It’s not a marriage proposal, but just being nice, and we have different friends for different reasons.

    They don’t have to like everyone. I certainly don’t. I’m never rude, but I have my select group of people I reach out to for socialization. The people who get me. My tribe. Which has shrunk the older I get.

    Maybe because I’ve said, be nice, treat everyone the same, is the reason my children have a nice size group of friends. But I can tell you, those friends are like minded to them. Enjoy the same interests. And their groups are vastly different because my kids are vastly different from each other. I wouldn’t expect it any other way.

    I say embrace the tribe, but keep an eye out for new members.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience with your own teens and for your point of view. I totally see your point. One of the reasons I wrote this post was to get people thinking and to solicit other points of view. I’m glad you shared yours :-).


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