Gossip is often described as "juicy" because it can be entertaining and interesting. It helps teenagers bond and feel accepted as part of a group because they are sharing a secret. However, gossip about personal experiences, relationships, character and other topics can be a form of bullying and cyberbullying. Your teenager may learn that someone who tells them unkind things about another person will also spread gossip about her. Teach your teen that gossip can be destructive and is rarely harmless.
Gossip is one way that you learn about other people -- particularly who to befriend and who to avoid. However, gossip gives teenagers perceptions of others that may not be accurate and may even mislead. A study published in Psychology Today notes that though you may insist that you don't believe the gossip you hear, it has the ability to shape your experience and actions. Teenagers may not be aware that the brain can be manipulated into affecting thoughts, behaviors and even perceptions.
Teenagers who are the victims of gossip can be severely affected. During the adolescent years, individuals face a host of emotional issues as they grapple with changes and growth. These include questions about identity, relationships, purpose, peer pressure and fitting in with peers. Being the target of gossip can be traumatizing for any teenager. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed, angry and frustrated by the unwanted attention. This can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and alcohol and substance abuse.
Teenagers also face the pressure to fit in and be like their friends. This includes looking and behaving a certain way, wearing similar types and labels of clothing and having relationships. Gossip about personal issues such as sex may pressure teenagers to reach relationship milestones before they feel ready. Teenagers may also use malicious gossip for their own self-interests and to make a group hostile towards one teen. Gossip can cause shame or exclusion, pressuring a teen to do anything to fit into the group again.
Teens love to talk and text, however words can be hurtful and even intimidating. Gossip can be a part of bullying and ruin the reputation and character of both the person who spreads it and the person who is the target. Help your teen avoid gossiping and cope with gossip in a healthy manner. Teach them to recognize sensational gossip that often reveals personal information and can be harmful. Emphasize that if it's not something they would say in front of the person or want someone to say about them, they should not say it at all. Be a positive role model and avoid gossip. Encourage your teen to avoid friends that participate in gossip and choose to hang out with individuals who are kind and sincere.