What do children learn from adults about gossiping?
My mother would often say, ‘if you haven’t got something nice to say, say nothing at all’. Mea culpa, as I have to admit I have been guilty at times of partaking in the idle ‘to and fro’ of gossip. After saying that, I despise malicious and hurtful gossip and I want no part of it.
Eleanor Roosovelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Essentially gossip belongs to petty minds and in our hearts we all know this. From time to time a friend, neighbor or colleague will pass some ‘tit bit’ of gossip to you and although we all enjoy some level of intrigue, we also hear that warning bell to never trust the person passing on the gossip as we know if they are willing to talk about others, they will be willing to talk about us. Rumors start small but grow out of proportion as they are passed on until they become ‘truth’ and hurt others.
Manipulative gossips often preface the delivery with comments like, ‘I shouldn’t really be telling you this but…’ or ‘I think you should know this as it could happen to you etc’. The classic of course is, ‘I know you can keep a secret and won’t pass this on.’
The really dangerous gossips are those who give a snippet of information about a person and then leave it at that for the recipient to form their own conclusion and refuse to pass on the source of the information. This ‘nod is good as a wink’ approach is just as bad as the gossip who decides to make 2+2 = 5. That is, distort or make up the information.
So why do people gossip? Usually it is to try and get attention, control or gain power. The gossip is desperately trying to be the centre of attention and to feel special. Often these people feel inferior and/or jealous and are trying to gain status.
Children need strong role models so they don’t stoop to this level of behavior. We have to help them distinguish what it is to be a kind and positive person. There are practical reasons to teach our children about the pitfalls of gossiping such as avoiding gaining a reputation as someone not to be trusted. As an adult, malicious gossip is very close to slander and a potential career blight.
So how can we promote ethical behavior around this subject of gossip with children?
‘As night follows day’, children will usually act with the ethics and values of their parents. If they hear their parents gossiping as part and parcel of their daily life, then the children will almost certainly be likely to do the same. So clearly ‘walk our talk’ and model appropriate kind and non-judgemental behavior.
Take time out to explain to our children the damage that can be done by hurtful comments. Child and adolescent psychologist D'Arcy Lyness (1) explains, "When you say mean things, tell stories that you're not sure are true or reveal information you know is supposed to remain private, you're spreading gossip." Activities for children about gossip help break the chain of mean-spirited talk about others and learn to respect others' feelings and privacy.”
Games such as ‘Telephone’ where someone whispers a message to the person next to them and this is passed on around the group by each person whispering to their neighbor, is a good way to demonstrate to children how messages can easily get distorted. A message like, “Ben likes scrambled eggs done in a frypan”, can easily end up as “ Ben scraped his legs on the van.”
Another good game is to get a child to squeeze out some toothpaste onto their finger and then give them 2 minutes to put it back in the tube. The children quickly realize this is almost impossible. This is a good illustration of you can’t take back what has been said and put out into the open.
Some of the best time to talk to children is on a car journey somewhere when just you and your child/ren are in the safe and contained haven where the focus can be on a good chat.
Without laboring the point too hard, “Children learn more than just ABCs in preschool and grade school. They also learn about social interactions and about the pitfalls of gossip and rumors. Children will spread gossip for several reasons, including the need to "fit in" with their friends, for control, and as a way to feel special or to impress others. Teaching children when they're young that spreading rumors and gossip is unacceptable will help them become more responsible, trustworthy adults.” (2)
There are times when children need to speak out and pass on information to a trusted adult for the welfare of another child. We have to help children distinguish between right and wrong and through discussion and role play, this can be achieved.
Finally, the best outcome we can hope to achieve with our children is for them to ‘take the high ground’ and learn early in life that people with character avoid gossip and look for the positive attributes in people.
1. How to Teach Children About Gossip
By Jaimie Zinski, eHow Contributor
2. Activities for Children About Gossip
By Tamara Van Hooser, eHow Contributor
Residing in Chippewa Falls, Wis., Jaimie Zinski has been writing since 2009. Specializing in pop culture, film and television, her work appears on Star Reviews and various other websites. Zinski is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in history at the University of Wisconsin.