Now that school is back in session that means that many children’s social lives shift into high gear. One of the major developmental opportunities that comes from school is that children can learn how to interact with different people, make friends, resolve conflicts, and also learn how to get along in social situations. Many of those lessons (like so many of life’s lessons) are learned the hard way—through painful and bumpy experience. Learning about the perils of gossip and rumors is just one of the lessons of childhood socialization.
Children need to be taught that spreading rumors is unacceptable. Spreading gossip and rumors is really a form of bullying and needs to be taken seriously. If your child is on the receiving end of rumors and gossip, trying to brush it off as “nothing” or saying that it doesn’t matter is not generally very helpful. Rumors can affect a child’s reputation, ability to make friends, interactions with peers, teachers, and parents, and damage a child’s self-esteem. While we want to give our children the tools to combat social pressures and learn to cope, as parents we may also need to intervene and let other adults know what is going on if rumors and gossip are getting out of control.
On the other side of the coin, we need to teach our children what gossip and rumors are. This can be challenging if we engage in gossiping behaviors ourselves! If our kids hear us talking about other people and “telling stories” or sharing gossip with others, they will just assume that is reasonable behavior and pick up our lead. We need to set very clear examples and expectations letting our kids know that spreading rumors or gossiping or saying negative things about other children is not okay. Our children need to know how powerful that sort of behavior can be and how detrimental it can be to other children. I always told my children that rumors and gossip were “mouth pollution”—it just made the entire environment around them foul—and once, they said things about other people, they couldn’t take it back and it had a tendency to take on a life of its own that they would not be able to control.
Sticks and stones may break bones, but gossip and rumors can be hurtful and, as parents, we might need to step in and teach our children how NOT to engage in such behaviors.