top of page

Be Careful what You Say to People, You Don't Know their Story


Image by 448271 from Pixabay


Especially in teenage years when kids are first defining their identities, there can be pressure to talk about other people behind their backs. This can take the form of gossip, hurtful teasing, and spreading rumors. Passive-aggressive comments that are made to people can hurt their self-esteem as well.


Unfortunately, it can be common to use gossiping about others as a way to bond and create friendships. When we speak badly about someone, we don't always recognize the ongoing negative impact that this can have on someone. Sometimes this harm can even lead to trauma for the victim, which can last for years.


Why people gossip


There are many reasons why people will gossip or make hurtful comments about others. Some of this has to do with a desire for self validation by putting people down. When you speak badly about someone else, it can momentarily make you feel better about yourself.


According to Psychology Today,

So let's take a look inwardly at why we gossip. For me, I can inadvertently feel better about myself when I am putting another person down. I can put myself up on a pedestal, even when I'm judging another person for being judgmental, which is super hypocritical.

Participation in gossiping or spreading rumors about someone else can come from a desire to fit in, or to be popular. We are socialized at a young age to want to be the best at everything we do. Perfectionism from our parents or social media can be instilled in us, along with a desire to be better than other people.


The personal desire to belong and be accepted is very strong. For teens, who are just discovering their own identities, there can be a lot of peer pressure to conform. This creates the pressure to put people down who don't fit in with social standards. It creates "in crowds" and "out crowds." This can be extremely toxic to all involved.


If gossip is so toxic, why do people do it?


According to Very Well Family, some of the reasons that people are inclined to gossip about others include:


  • To Feel Better

  • To Feel Accepted

  • To Get Attention

  • To Gain Power

  • To Get Revenge

  • To Relieve Boredom


Places like High Schools have an intense social hierarchy. This puts a lot of pressure on teens to fit in with their peers, or to be ostracized if they don't. Even if your teen isn't the one starting the gossip or rumors, if they listen and don't speak up, there can be extreme negative impacts to others in their school.


This makes it important for us as parents to teach our kids the importance of kindness and prosocial behaviors. When someone speaks up against gossip, rumors and bullying, it can help the victim to feel seen and heard. It can also create a reverse social pressure against gossip and bullying.


Today, many schools present bullying prevention curriculums as part of the school day. This can help to counteract the social pressure to speak badly to or about others.


The negative impacts of gossip


Recently, I myself was the victim of people's negative talk and comments in my workplace. I was bartending and it was short staffed. I was doing the best I could to serve the customers in the order that they came up. I was struggling.


Then, a group of women sitting at the bar started talking badly about me, saying that they weren't getting good service, and that they had been there before someone else. They started talking loudly to some other people who came up to the bar too.


Finally, since I have PTSD, I had a panic attack trying to cope with both my responsibilities and the passive-aggressive comments that were being made about me. It was so intense that, after asking for help and not receiving it, I walked out and quit my job.


I needed that job.


But even more than that, I needed to be treated with kindness and compassion.


When people speak badly about others, often they don't think about the impact of their words on the victim. To the people gossiping or putting others down, it may not seem like a 'big deal.' It might seem normal, or like fun or a joke. But the truth is, words can hurt others deeply.


I tend to have a much more difficult time trusting peers who gossip constantly than the ones who don't. If someone is speaking negatively about all of my friends to me, they are extremely likely to be doing the same thing to me behind my back. Thus, trust is never fully cultivated and I find myself people-pleasing my way around the friendship.

Gossiping and speaking badly about others hurts the people doing it, too. It corrodes trust in relationships, and makes people feel on edge around their peer group, and like they always have to be watchful. They never really know that their so-called friends aren't going to turn against them.


There can be devastating consequences to gossip and bullying for the victims. I had to leave my job. Teens may have to change schools, or start online school in order to feel safe. In extreme cases, teens may also be pushed into committing suicide, when they feel like they haven't been protected by the school or their parents.


According to the National Institute of Health, one study showed that:

Borowsky et al. [13] concluded that suicidal ideation and attempt rates were the lowest at 6.3% and 1.2% for the uninvolved, 16.5% and 5.0% for bullies, 21.8% and 6.5% for victims, and the highest at 26.1% and 11.1% for bully-victims.

Even not taking into account the other effects of bullying in schools, the alarming rates of suicide among bullying victims should be reason enough to stop this disturbing behavior. Talking badly about someone can hurt them in ways that you may never realize.


In order to safeguard people who are vulnerable and the targets of gossiping, rumors and bullying, we all need to be aware of the way we speak. As parents, we need to teach our children and our teens to be mindful as well. This can help to prevent so much suffering for others in our world.


Closing thoughts


In a world where we can choose to be anything, it is important to choose kindness. You never know what obstacles that someone is facing, and the impact that unkind words may have on them.


Whether it is in your friendships, your child's school, or the workplace, we always have a choice to hold ourselves to a higher standard and refuse to be a part of gossip and bullying. If you stand up for someone who is being beaten down by others, it can have a profound impact on their future.


You can always refuse to be a part of gossip and other forms of hate speech. And, it is critically important to teach your teens to do the same. This way, we all do our part to create a better society for everyone.



Comments


bottom of page