Rumors, Gossip and the Harm They Cause

Rumor has a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths, a voice of iron.  – Virgil

While most bullying happens face-to-face, rumors are a behind-the-back kind of bullying that can be just as damaging. Karin Frey of the University of Washington, who helped develop the successful anti-bullying program Steps to Respect, says that kids report that gossip and rumors are just as painful as physical aggression.

“In its own right [gossip] can be very harmful,” says Frey. “The intent of gossip is to harm someone’s relationship to other people or to harm their reputations. Sometimes this could escalate to more physical types of aggression.”

Teachers and parents often underestimate gossip’s harm, Frey reports. Since much of this type of bullying goes under the radar of adult supervision, the kids themselves have to be encouraged not to condone or tolerate rumors. Parents as well as teachers need to encourage children to take responsibility for hurting someone with rumors and then working to make restitution (even if a child did not start the rumor but followed the lead of the bully who did start the rumor).

If you find out about your child or student repeating a rumor, you need to encourage your child to:

  • Apologize
  • Go to everyone she told and tell them it wasn’t true
  • Ask them to stop spreading it
  • Tell everyone she wants to correct the damage done
  • Repair any harm done to the target
  • Heal with the child she harmed – ie. Invite the child to join her for lunch, a bike ride, a sleep over, etc.

Keep in mind that taking these steps requires great courage on your child’s part.  He will need your support in facing the anger the targeted child may express and need your guidance while learning to take full responsibility for the mistakes made.  Talk about ways to block a rumor in the future.

By Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator

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