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Why Do Teenagers Gossip?

by Oubria Tronshaw

It used to be that gossip faded away in the minds of growing teens, but with email, text-messaging and social networking, malicious talk can linger on forever in cyberspace, according to George Washington University author and professor Daniel Solove. In addition to insecurity and social pressures, teens often gossip simply because they don't realize how long the harmful effects of their behavior can last.

Low Self-Esteem

Teens who gossip often suffer from low self-esteem, and put others down in an attempt to boost themselves up. Some teens are starved for attention and gossip because it puts the focus on them; others are victims of gossip themselves, and spill their classmates’ business to shift attention to someone else. Still, others are jealous of peers’ appearance, possessions, relationships or accomplishments, and gossip to level the playing field.

Peer Pressure

Sometimes teens don’t want to gossip, but do it anyway to fit in with their friends. According to PBSkids.org, kids often talk about others behind their backs because they want to feel “a part of the group,” which is ironic, because gossiping to feel accepted inevitably causes someone else to suffer the frustration of being excluded. Over time, the practice could be reduced if parents and school officials work together to remind kids that they don’t need to gossip to feel popular. One Long Island high school does just that -- according to a 2008 article in "The New York Times," administrators at the Stella K. Abraham High school for girls instituted a 60-minute “no gossip” rule each day, where students are reminded not to speak ill of each other for a full hour. Although it isn’t easy to automatically break the gossip habit -- one student reported listening to music for the entire hour because she knew she’d break the rule if she talked to her friends -- making teens look honestly at how their words affect each other can help inspire gradual change for the better.

Societal Influence

Although parents and teachers might tell teens not to gossip, the behavior is promoted in mainstream media. From entertainment “news” to celebrity gossip websites, society makes it a point to discuss the personal lives of athletes, actors, musicians and political figures -- as if fame is an open invitation to scrutiny, criticism and ridicule. Regardless of what they’re told, teens receive the subliminal message that it's en vogue to tear people down. Parents should try to limit their teen’s media exposure, or at least have candid conversations about why celebrity gossip or any gossip, for that matter, isn’t cool.

Parental Influence

Teens often do what they see, not what they’re told, according to Shanterra McBride, director of education and programs for the Empower Program in Silver Springs, Maryland, as reported in the "The New York Times" article. She said that if you tell your kid not to gossip, and then come home and complain about your coworkers or dish about your friends, your teen will get the message that it’s perfectly fine to speak one way to someone’s face and another way behind their back. If you don’t want your teen to gossip, you have to provide a good example and zip your lips.

About the Author

Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.

Photo Credits

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