How to Help Your Teen Deal with Gossip
The adolescent years, more than any other period in life, tends to be a time characterized by gossip and rumors. As we all know, gossip spreads like wildfire, especially nowadays with the help of social media, and regardless of how innocently a story began, gossip is quickly exaggerated and the truth is distorted. Every teen is at risk of being targeted, even those that try to stay away from all of the drama.
The Consequences of Gossip
Gossip has a painful impact on a teenager. Its effects can be harmful and long-lasting. Here are a few possible consequences:
- Gossip isolates a teen from his/her peer group, at a time when friends are essential to a teen’s well-being and healthy development. It makes them feel like an outsider, with nowhere to turn for help.
- Teens often feel embarrassed and ashamed about the rumors that are circling around their peer group. Not only does this make them doubt themselves, it also can make them feel too uncomfortable to ask an adult for help.
- Low self-confidence. Gossip significantly hurts a teen’s self-confidence, which can result in other problems, such as declining grades, poor family relationships, and/or a greater likelihood to experiment with drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.
- Teen victims of gossip have an increased risk of depression, and even suicide.
Dealing with Gossip Appropriately
It is so painful, as a parent, to watch our children go through difficult and unfair situations. It’s not always easy to know how to help a teen in a way that won’t irritate them or make their situation worse, so here are a few tips for helping them cope with gossip and rumors:
- Validate feelings. Give your teen the opportunity to vent their frustration over the issue. Perhaps, most important is to let your teen know that gossiping is verbal bullying. Reassure them that they are not a bad person.
- Get to the bottom of the gossip. Find out the names of the teens who are spreading the gossip, what they are saying, and why it is occurring. Discovering this information can help clear up misinformation, provide reasons for the situation, and shed light on an appropriate way forward to deal with the situation.
- Contact the school. Schedule a meeting with your school’s principal to get his or her assistance in the matter. If the gossip was spread online, keep copies of the interactions and show it to your child’s school administrators.
- Encourage positive reactions. When someone hurts us, many of us feel a desire for revenge. Unfortunately, this usually makes bullying worse, so advise your teen to take the high road and stay positive.
- Teach your teen assertiveness skills. Teens need to be able to stand up for themselves with confidence when confronted with rumors. Help your teen develop a script that they can use to respond to people who say rude things or who continue to spread gossip about them. (Note: There is a big difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness! You can review our previous blog: 5 Ways Parents Can Teach Assertiveness to Teens.)
- Provide distraction. Dwelling on the gossip will make your teen feel worse. Instead, try to get your child involved in outside activities, or plan a weekend getaway, or organize some other distraction to get your teen’s mind off of the problem.
- Encourage confidence. Advise your teen to find a friend or two that are loyal and will ignore the gossip. Having the chance to spend time with positive people will lessen the impact of the gossip. Ask your teen to do activities that they enjoy or that strengthen their confidence. You want your teen to focus on positive things and believe in themselves.
- Get help. Watch for signs of emotional distress. Some kids are able to patiently wait for the gossip to die down, while other teens cannot. Even minor name-calling can take an emotional toll on a child. Pay attention for warnings of eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, or other issues. Do your best to establish a supportive, encouraging home environment. Seek professional help if you begin to notice signs of depression or other mental health problems.
One piece of advice that parents may want to give their teens before they experience hurtful gossip is to be careful about what, and with whom, they share information. Private information your teen tells someone, either in person or in texts, emails, or social media, can potentially be used to create rumors.