Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sue Scheff: Can Gossip be good for your teens?

What an interesting article this week on Connect with Kids. Gossip can be good in some ways and extremely hurtful in other ways. Where is the balance? Be an educated parent, read this educational article.

Source: Connect with Kids

Gossip Is Good

“It lets people really know each other, and know about what's going on in their lives. And that enables people to feel safe. It makes them feel a sense of belonging.”

– Wendy Simonds, PhD, sociology

The Tiger Woods scandal sparked discussions about personal image and adultery on news stations and at dinner tables across the country. But are these discussions useful or just gossip? Some experts say they can be both.

"Did you see the outfit she had on?" friends Zuri and Meimi laugh.

It's often irresistible and painful. "[It] ruins friendships, ruins lives, messes people's reputations, hurt's people's feelings," seventeen-year-old Zuri says.

"I'm normally the one who starts and spreads the gossip," says seventeen-year-old Kyle, "so, I mean, I've broken up a lot of good friends over gossip."

And sixteen-year-old Caitlin has been the brunt of it as well, "I've had my fair share of broken friendships that I've kind of had to rekindle because of things that were said or spread around because people didn't know all the facts."

Gossip can hurt, psychologists say, but here's the surprise, "It lets people really know each other, and know what's going on in their lives," explains Wendy Simonds, professor of sociology at Georgia State University, "And that enables people to feel safe. It makes them feel a sense of belonging."

And in a teenager's life it can act as a social road map of right and wrong and as a warning signal, not to befriend the wrong person.

Seventeen-year-old Meimi found out through gossip that a guy she was dating was trouble, "You know, I had to listen and a couple of weeks later I had found out he sold drugs and he had been locked up and a lot of stuff, so I was kind of appreciative of gossip at that point."

Still, experts and kids warn, you have to be careful. "I think it's always a good idea to try to personalize the issue that's being talked about, what if it were me and people were talking about me this way," advises Simonds.

"Gossip is fine, as long as it's not making up complete lies," says sixteen-year-old Lee, "And just being flat out mean, that's not cool."

As hard as it is to believe, the words "sibling" and "gossip" originated from the same word: "Godsibb." The word originally translated to mean "a person related to one in God," or a "godparent." In this circumstance, gossip was used to denote a relationship of trust and friendship. However, in the 1800s, the word "gossip" began to stray from its original roots until it became what it is today – nearly the opposite or what is was originally.

Tips for Parents

Gossip can be extremely harmful, but there are some times when it can be helpful. Dr. Offra Gerstein, a clinical psychologist, gives the following suggestions for parents to share with their children for how to handle gossip in a healthy manner:

■Create healthy ways of connecting with others that do not require negative talk about a third party.
■When you are told about another person, ask for verification of the information. Trusting that what is said is true without challenging its veracity makes you a partner in perpetuating gossip.
■If you hear negative talk, refuse to listen and politely attempt to stop the speaker.
■Ask the "gossipper" to tell you what positive things he/she may relate about the individual being criticized.
■When you are entrusted with a secret, feel honored and never repeat it to anyone. Repeating confidences is like stealing one's dignity.
■Feel free to share positive gossip with others, provided that your facts are correct.
■As enjoyable as it may be to bond with someone temporarily through gossip, the damage to all parties is immeasurable. Resist the momentary temptation for gaining a wholesome sense of self-respect.

■Psychology Today
■Santa Cruz Sentinel
■University Press of Kansas

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