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Teens and Gossip: Watch Your Words (In Person and Online)

Teen Gossip is Anything But Idle

By Cathie Ericson

Teens and gossip have gone together since the dawn of time. It’s fun for teenagers to dish the latest news with friends—who has a new romance, who just got their license, who they saw at the mall yesterday. And that kind of conversation can draw friends closer together, and even alert others to someone in trouble—a teen who needs serious intervention, or maybe just some words of support because her dog died. But when does social chitchat cross over into something hurtful or damaging?

Problems With Gossip

What we may think of as harmless “gossip” can also have a dark side. You know how it starts: One teen says she saw another teen at a movie with a boy who wasn’t her boyfriend, and suddenly the school and social media are ablaze with “cheating” rumors. Oh, it was just her out-of-town family friend? Too bad—the damage to that teen’s reputation has already been done.

“That’s gossip at its most insidious—when someone is not in the room to defend or explain themselves,” says Nicole Zangara, a licensed social worker in Scottsdale, Arizona, and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

And talking about others in a hurtful way—whether or not the information is true—is never okay.  “It can turn into bullying, which can lead to depression, anxiety, or worse,” cautions Zangara.

So here are good rules of thumb that you can share with your teen: Are you sharing information in a kind, helpful way, or are you simply being mean?  And, further: Do you know it’s true, or are you repeating something unverified from someone else?

Maybe that old adage is right: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Cathie Ericson

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Read more about Cathie at cathieericsonwriter.com.