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The Scoop on Gossip

Have you ever played the game Telephone? You sit in a circle with a group of people and one person whispers a phrase to the person next to him or her. Then, each person keeps whispering the phrase around the circle until it reaches the last person, who repeats the whispered statement out loud. What started out as "Pizza tastes great" can end up as "Pete's a great ape!"

It's funny to laugh at how twisted the sentence became as it got passed around. Gossip can work the same way, but it's not so funny. In fact, it can be very hurtful. Have you ever gossiped or been gossiped about? Let's find out more about gossiping.

Talk Versus Gossip

Talking is how you spread your thoughts, ideas, and experiences to people around you. It's not always wrong to talk about other people. There's nothing wrong with telling your friends, "I like hanging out with Jake. He tells the funniest stories!" Those words don't hurt anyone.

But when you say mean things, tell stories that you're not sure are true, or reveal information you know is supposed to remain private, you're spreading gossip. What if you saw funny Jake go into the principal's office and you started wondering if he was in trouble. There's nothing wrong with wondering that, but what if you started telling other people you think Jake's in big trouble. You really don't know why he was in the principal's office, right?

But before you know it, everyone is talking about how Jake is in trouble and imagining why. Maybe he put his rubber snake in the teacher's desk, someone says. Maybe he punched a kid who didn't laugh at one of his jokes, another person suggests. Jake doesn't come back to class for a long time, but when he does, everyone wants to know what happened in the principal's office.

Jake might be a little angry or confused about all the questions, especially when he explains, "I went to the principal's office because my mom was there to take me to a doctor appointment."

That's how rumors work. They start small and often blow up into something different from the truth.

What If It's True?

Even if it was true that Jake was in big trouble — and you knew it for a fact — it wouldn't have been right to tell everyone about it. Try to avoid talking about stuff that would embarrass another person. Before you blab, try this test: Ask yourself if you would want other people to know that kind of stuff about you.

Sometimes a friend will admit something to you and ask you not to tell anyone else. It can be hard not to share a secret, especially when it's something you really want to talk about with other friends. Maybe you don't even understand why the person wants you to keep the information a secret.

Sometimes, you may overhear something and your mind starts spinning. But remember that you might have heard just one piece of the story. Something like this happened a long time ago, before everyone had TVs in their homes, when people used to listen to stories on the radio.

On Halloween in 1938, a radio program broadcast a story called "The War of the Worlds." It was about Martians landing in New Jersey and trying to take over the world. Sounds crazy, right? Well, the problem was that some people turned on the story in the middle, and it sounded like it a regular news broadcast. Some people thought it was actually happening. They didn't hear the introduction, when the announcer explained that this was just a pretend story. They only heard one piece of the story and got all confused!

When It's OK to Tell

Of course, sometimes it's OK to talk about another person, especially if it involves dangerous behavior. What if a classmate brings a pocketknife to school or your friend tells you she's not eating until she loses 10 pounds? In cases like that, you need to tell a parent or another trusted adult. Telling a grownup who can help is not gossiping.

Gossip Busters

The best way to avoid being a part of the gossip mill in your school is to steer clear of kids who gossip. If you happen to hear a rumor, don't repeat it — and don't listen to it, either. And when someone trusts you with a personal secret, keep it to yourself.

If you're the victim of gossip, know that this happens to a lot of people. Talking to a close friend, sister, brother, parent, or guidance counselor can help you feel better.

At first, gossip might seem like fun. It can feel like a private little club with you and your friend whispering about another person. But if someone gossips with you, he or she also might gossip about you. And it doesn't feel good to be on the receiving end. Stick with friends who would rather live their own fun lives than talk about someone else's!

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: January 2014