Do you feel you belong to a particular group? What do you have in common with the others in your group?
I’m sure we can all say we have different groups of friends. We may have work colleagues, people we know from playing sport or at the gym, or other parents in the school playground. Our neighbours may form a group we associate with, or we might say we have a strong group of college friends.
I’ve been looking at friendship groups through the eyes of my children. My daughter is extremely lucky in that she doesn’t seem to let girlish squabbles control her life. I can remember only a few occasions in which arguments between the girls at school have got her down. If someone is unkind or won’t let her join in, she finds someone else to play with. Long may that last!
She’s had a mobile phone since she started walking to and from school without supervision. It seems like a large number of younger friends have aquired phones for Christmas. While her phone was on the kitchen worktop the other day, it was buzzing constantly. On picking it up I noticed 40 messages in “Year 6 Friends”, 32 in “Best Friends Forever” and another 26 in “Best Friends 3”. The majority of these WhatsApp groups seem to have the same people in them. Perhaps it is because I am of a different generation, but I struggle to work out why they need so many different groups.
My son, however, is in a different position. He had a wonderful year in Reception, but none of the boys of that class went into his class the next year. It took a long time for him to be happy in Year 1. Two years on, I still feel he struggles to find his place a little. There seems to be two very dominant boys in his class. They formed a gang last year, which his teacher put a stop to. They may not call themselves a gang any more, but the same principles seem to apply. Apparently the leader “trusts” my little boy, so he is able to have some influence over letting others join. I am not happy about the way all of this seems to work, but it is not easy to change their culture.
When we are part of a group, we feel we fit in. We tend to form groups with those we can identify with. It may only be a small thing, but the result is that we bond with those people. We can feel more similar to the people in our group than we really are. In contrast, we believe that others who don’t feel the same way as our are more different from us than they truly are. When I started uni, it was Blur vs Oasis fans. We were truly different tribes!
I moved across the country a couple of times as a child. I don’t remember any difficulties settling in to a new school when I was 5, whereas it was more of a challenge aged 9. Don’t get me wrong – I made friends easily enough, but I didn’t feel like “one of them” as much as I would have liked. On the other hand, my brother totally immersed himself in the local culture. He is still friends with a number of people he met in the early days of having moved.
I’ve mentioned before that the school playground is just as much a minefield for parents as it is for children. Many of the girls in my daughter’s class live in the opposite direction to us. The families all seemed to know each other. It has taken a LONG TIME but I finally feel accepted by them. I was paid the biggest compliment the other day – one of the mums said, “You’re normal – just like us.” It was humbling.
While we all want to belong, let’s make sure we don’t do it at the expense of others. Look around you. Can you see anyone on their own? Are you deliberately leaving someone out? Have a think about the impact this may have on them, and see if you can bring yourself to include them.
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