“Someone is Spreading Rumors About Me”
One of the worst things to hear from your child are the words, “someone is spreading rumors about me.” It’s so hurtful, and you feel so powerless. Gossip is really a form of emotional bullying.
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.
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. You want to listen to their feelings, and let them know that they are normal. This is not a time for lectures or for you to get angry at the culprit of the rumors, but to seek to understand how your teen is feeling. Reassure them that they are a wonderful person who does not deserve this type of treatment.
- Offer unconditional acceptance. Remind your teen that you love them, and nothing is ever going to change that. They need to understand that even though things at school might be a mess, you have their back, no questions asked.
- Get to the bottom of the gossip. Find out who is 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. Consider talking with your school’s guidance counselor or 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.
- Identify takeaways. Help your teen identify if there is anything they could do differently in the future to avoid a similar situation. Perhaps the group of friends they were hanging out with were toxic and your teen needs to hang out with more positive people. Perhaps your teen shared too much personal information and it was used against them. Perhaps they were too harsh on a comment on social media resulting in a retaliatory rumor.
- Encourage positive reactions. When someone hurts us, it is hard not to feel overwhelmed and react in negative ways. Most of us have a powerful urge to go find everyone who heard the rumor and set the record straight. This is a mistake. Tell your teen to refute the rumor once, and that’s it. No more responses, and definitely no revenge. Just like with other types of bullying, it makes it worse when kids reward a bully’s efforts by getting visibly upset or repeatedly addressing the issue or retaliating. When there’s no interesting reactions, bullies get bored and move on. The best reaction is laughing it off or a simple eye roll and “whatever.”
- 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.
- Stay offline. If the rumors are being spread online, it may be a good idea to avoid social media for a while. Technology can make people mean simply because it’s a lot easier to type something nasty about someone than it is to say it to their face. If your teen is online, remind them that they should never respond to online comments that make them feel belittled, ashamed or uncomfortable.
- Focus on true friends. Advise your teen to find a friend or two that are loyal and will ignore the rumors. Having the chance to spend time with positive people will lessen the impact of the gossip. Encourage your teen to spend their time and energy on having fun with these positive friends doing activities they enjoy.
- Encourage self–care. You want your teen to focus on positive things and believe in themselves. Help your teen identify things that help them relieve stress, such as taking a long bath, reading, journaling, walking the dog, drawing, listening to music, or other relaxing activities.
- Keep it in perspective. Almost everyone is the target of a rumor a few times in their lives, and it eventually blows over. Remind your teen that this gossip will pass and become a distant, if not fond, memory.
- 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 warning signs 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.
Regardless of whether your teen has been the victim of gossip or not, it’s important to talk to your children about not spreading rumors. Gossiping about others may seem like harmless fun when you’re not its target, but in reality, gossip can hurt feelings, and it may negatively affect someone’s life. Be sure to tell your teen that if they participate in gossip, they are hurting someone. However, they can be part of the solution! If they don’t listen to or spread rumors about others, then people will come to see them as trustworthy. It only takes one person to stand up to the crowd, and if you say something like, “This is really mean and I feel bad talking about it,” you open the door for other people to do the same.