Saturday, June 17, 2023

Middle School Stuff #6: Gossip – Jessica Speer


This series of posts explores the tricky side of middle school. Here’s post #6 – Gossip. If you missed earlier posts, here are links: #1 – Judgment, #2 – Friendship Changes, #3 – Popularity#4 – Crushes & Dating, and # 5 – Cliques & Groups.

While researching Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, I visited 7th-grade classrooms and talked with students about school social dynamics. When I asked preteens to share middle school’s “tricky” aspects, “gossip” came up often. 

Why Do We Gossip? 

Gossip is defined as “conversations about other people typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” It’s pretty common at any age, especially during the preteen and teen years, as kids explore new behaviors, connect with peers and navigate conflict. It’s natural for kids to be interested in their peers, yet sometimes gossip is fueled by conflict more than curiosity. 

Middle School Student Thoughts About Gossip 

  • “Gossip can be like a game of telephone. The story changes over time.”
  • “I heard that one of my good friends told people that I did something I hadn’t. It turns out it was a big misunderstanding, but it caused a lot of drama and hurt feelings.”

Through conversations with students, I learned that there is more than one type of gossip. Sometimes gossip is fairly harmless. Other times, it’s harmful and challenging to navigate. Let’s break down two common types of gossip. 

Two Common Types of Gossip

  • Gossip Type 1: News about others’ behaviors or activities. This type of gossip tends to be fueled by curiosity and includes news about school suspensions, fights, and new and different behaviors amongst peers.
  • Why Kids Gossip About This: Kids are curious about what is going on with other students
  • Gossip Type 2: Sharing complaints or criticisms about others. This type of gossip includes labels and rumors and tends to be fueled by conflict.
  • Why Kids Gossip About This: Kids may engage in this type of gossip for the purpose of social climbing or because of insecurity (putting others down to feel better about themselves). Ineffective communication and conflict resolution skills also lead to this type of gossip. For example, when a student talks to others instead of directly to the person involved in the conflict.
gossip in middle school
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Students’ Thoughts on Why Kids Gossip

So, why do some students gossip? When I asked students this question, here’s a sample of what they shared:

  • “I think kids are doing this because they don’t like the person they spread rumors about.”
  • “Some kids have really different personalities, so they clash. Instead of dealing with each other, they gossip to take each other down. The other kids take sides, which makes things worse.”
  • “Nobody wants to be the last one to know the latest gossip. This makes it important to stay in the loop.”

How Students Navigate Gossip Amongst Peers

Navigating middle school gossip can be tricky. Getting pulled into conversations about others is easy, especially as preteens and teens try to fit in and connect with peers. So, I asked students what advice they would give to help other students navigate this scene. Their responses were insightful:

  • “Don’t listen to gossip. Instead, talk to the person whom the gossip is about.”
  • “You are most likely to be similar to the friends you are around the most. Hang out with people who avoid drama.”
  • “Don’t pick sides. You don’t know the whole story.”
gossip in middle school
Photo by Kobe – on Pexels.com

How Can Caregivers Help Kids Navigate 

During the preteen and teen years, kids are curious about their peers and seek connections. This makes gossip common in some social groups. Caregivers can help kids avoid harmful gossip by helping preteens understand different forms of gossip. When kids gain awareness that some gossip is fueled by a lack of communication and conflict resolution skills, it opens conversations on how to communicate and resolve conflict in healthy ways. 

Caregivers also play an essential role in modeling appreciation for all types of people. This comment by a student shares a great way to combat gossiping, “Pretend that whoever you are talking about is right next to you. Only say things you would be okay with them hearing.”

About Jessica Speer:

Jessica Speer is the highly acclaimed author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised. Her interactive books for preteens and teens entertain readers while exploring social-emotional topics. Blending humor, stories, and insights, her writing unpacks the social stuff that surfaces during childhood and adolescence. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores topics in ways that connect with kids. Jessica is regularly featured in and contributes to media outlets on topics related to kids, teens, parenting, and friendship. For more information, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com

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