Gossip is like eating the Turkish Delight candy in the Narnia books, one 10-year-old girl recently admitted to her mother. "I know it's bad but I can't stop myself."
Nearly every school-aged child has been both the perpetrator and the target of gossip?spreading rumors, stretching a story, or whispering about someone else in a mean or critical way.
Gossip, at its root, is a female version of bullying behavior. According to Cam Short-Camilli, author of Bully-Proofing Your School (Sopris West), boys usually handle conflict through physical means: fighting or simply walking away from a situation. Girls, on the other hand, rely more on verbal and psychological techniques: excluding a classmate or starting a hurtful rumor.
When it comes to friendships, kids can be fickle. For most kids, it's important to "fit in" and belong to a peer group. Gossip is one way to accomplish this goal. By verbally tearing others down, a child attempts to build herself up. By excluding others from the group, she feels a greater sense of control over her circle of friends.
If you find that your child is gossiping, the first step is to call her attention to it. She may be surprised at what gossip really is and how hurtful it can be. Help her work at building her self-worth in other ways and work with her to increase her capacity for empathy. Talk with her about what it would feel like to be talked about or excluded. Help her see that what might feel like no big deal can hurt other people.
It's also important that she understand what God says about gossip. Sit down with her and help her look up what the Scripture says about gossiping (start with Prov. 11:13, Prov. 26:20 and 2 Cor. 12:20). This is a good time to talk to her about other sins that involve words: lying, tattling, or being bossy.
If your child is the target of gossip, the best thing you can do is provide a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. Help her analyze her friendships and encourage her to tackle the gossip head-on by talking to the person who started the rumor.
Author, mother of two
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