Groups we belong to
Life is about change, small and large. One major change we all experience is who we spend time with on a regular basis.
For some of us, the transition from primary to high-school can feel like starting over—new school, new friends, new interests, new expectations.
Many of us embrace the opportunity to start fresh somewhere new and see it as an opportunity to make new friends and develop new interests. Others feel uncertain about how they might fit in to this new world and feel anxious about the changed relationships with old friends.
It helps to understand how groups work and what membership of different peer groups can mean.
Peer relationships versus friendships
A peer is someone like you—someone of a similar age, similar ability, similar background. For example, if you are in year 8, then other year 8 students are your peers. A student in year 11 is not your peer.
As students, we are all members of a peer group simply by virtue of being in the same classroom, sharing the same playground space, being in the same year at school.
Your close proximity to your classmates 5 days a week for the majority of your school life means that you have a relationship with them. You will more than likely know who your classmates are, who they are friends with, and some of their interests.
There will be some classmates you consider to be more than a peer. You’ll have a deeper relationship—you will be friends. Usually friends will:
- share more personal information with each other
- congratulate each other when something great happens
- support each other when something bad happens
- encourage each other to chase personal goals
- think the best way to spend time is hanging out with each other.
Our family is the first group we belong to and is where we have our initial experience of relationships. A family group can take different forms, but importantly they are the person or group that has primary caregiving responsibility in our early years.
We spend a lot of time with members of our family and sometimes our relationships with them can become difficult. As you go through adolescence and grow in independence, it’s not uncommon to sometimes come into conflict with your parents, carers, siblings or extended family members.
Expectations can change—what you expect from your family and what your family expects from you. Failure to meet expectations can lead to conflict. This is all a normal part of growing up and becoming more independent.
It is important during these times to always deal with any disagreement or conflict respectfully and to make an effort to understand the other person’s perspective.
The internet and mobile technologies empower us to pursue interests and build relationships that aren’t limited by our physical location.
We use social media and online spaces to:
- find others who might have a shared connection or common interest but would be unlikely to meet offline
- connect virtually with people who we already know in the offline world.
Group chats, friend to friend messages, posting and sharing—conversations begun at school can continue online without the disruption caused by physical separation.
Virtual groups can be positive. You can maintain a sense of belonging and connection with your friends even when you’re physically apart. These could be friends that you see at school every day, or friends you’ve met online but have never met in person.
If you are involved in an online conflict or disagreement with a friend, you can slow down interactions and give yourself time to think about how best to respond to something upsetting or hurtful.
Use of social media can also lead to close tracking of your online activity by your peers and friends—they can see what you like and post. This sharing of information can be affirming and cement acceptance into a group. But if you follow the ‘wrong’ musicians or celebrities, or like the ‘wrong’ posts, your online activity can be seen as going against what your group thinks is acceptable or appropriate – in other words you will be going against the group norms.
Social media can also be used to make private information public. A conversation between two individuals can easily be shared with a group and have unintended negative consequences. Once information is online, it becomes part of our digital footprint and available for anyone to find.