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Understanding the Impact of Rumors and Gossip

A closer look at why teens gossip and its consequences


Updated June 28, 2013

Understanding the Impact of Rumors and Gossip

To many people, rumors and gossip may seem like an innocent form of teenage life. After all, drama is expected at this age. As a result, most adults see gossip and rumors as harmless and often encourage kids to just ignore it. But for those who are impacted, gossip can be downright painful at times and almost impossible to ignore – especially if social media is being used to perpetuate it.

Consequently, kids who are being gossiped about are negatively affected in a number of ways. Gossip and rumors can destroy a person’s self-confidence and affect their self-esteem. It also can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, anxiety and a host of other issues. What’s more gossip and rumors can alienate friends, ruin reputations and even lead to ostracizing behavior and other forms of relational aggression.

To help your child deal effectively with gossip and rumors, it’s important to understand the difference between the two. It also helps to understand why kids engage in gossiping and rumor spreading.

What is a rumor?

Rumors are a piece of information or a story that has not been verified. What this means, is that the person telling the story doesn’t know for certain if it is true or not. Most of the time, people who spread rumors don’t bother to determine if there is any truth to what they are saying.

Typically, rumors are spread from person to person and can change slightly each time they are told. As a result, they can become exaggerated and altered over time.

Rumors can involve just about anything and often run the gamut. For instance, at school there could be rumors about casting calls in the theatre department, rumors about how the final will be handled in history class or rumors that the head cheerleader is secretly dating a member of the chess club.

What is gossip?

Gossip is slightly different from a rumor. Usually, gossip involves a juicy detail of some sort, which means the information is shocking or personal. What’s more, gossip is usually spread behind a person’s back and can be very hurtful.

Gossip usually involves love, relationships, sex and other issues that people don’t usually talk about publicly. Additionally, gossip almost always causes pain and humiliation for the person it’s about. People share gossip without any thought of how it might impact the person it’s about.

Why do kids spread rumors or gossip?

There are a variety of reasons why kids will spread rumors or engage in gossip. But at the top of the list, most kids gossip or spread rumors to fit in with their friends, as a way to feel special or to impress others. Here’s a closer look at the reasons why kids gossip.

To feel better When people feel bad about themselves, they sometimes will target other people to try to make themselves feel better.

To feel accepted. If everyone else in their circle of friends is gossiping or spreading rumors, kids feel like they have to do the same thing in order to be accepted.

To get attention. When teens know a secret that nobody else knows, or they are the first person in the group to hear a rumor, it makes them the center of attention.

To gain power. Some teens always want to be the one in control and the one at the top of the social ladder. When kids are at the top of the social ladder or are determined to climb higher, they sometimes accomplish that by hurting the status of another person. Spreading rumors or gossiping is one of the primary ways people jockey for social status, especially mean girls.

To get revenge. When teens are jealous of another person’s looks, popularity or money, they might use gossip and rumors to hurt that person. They also tend to use gossip and rumors to get back at someone who they feel deserves to be hurt. Making up a rumor or spreading gossip sometimes satisfies their need for justice.

To relieve boredom. Research indicates that boredom is often the number one reason why teens spread rumors. They are bored with life because there is no drama and resort to rumors and gossip to spice things up and make like more exciting.

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