Slow Your Roll – Minimizing Rumors and Gossip

By Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

Gossip and rumors are forms of bullying and fall under the category of relational bullying. Children who have been the target of gossip and rumors will often tell others that it is even more painful than physical bullying.  In my opinion, this type of bullying can become the most devastating of all.  It is the most difficult to prove and detect and can leave damage that can last much longer than physical bullying.  Gossip and rumors are mean-spirited, can be used in retaliation and are a negative form of communication.  According to the dictionary they include “doubtful truth” and “typically involves details that are not confirmed as being true.”

Minimizing rumors and gossip can be an incredibly valuable skill for kids, especially during middle school when this behavior peaks. The strategies discussed below should be followed in order for them to be most effective. These are suggestions that both the caregiver and the child should work on together. The adult can act as a coach and scenarios can be role-played so the child feels comfortable taking a stand should they endure being the subject of rumors or the topic of gossip. The child should rehearse lines that feel most natural to them.  The following is adapted from the PEERS® social skills training intervention program curriculum.

Don’t try to disprove the rumor
This can be quite difficult as our natural instinct is to deny a rumor about ourselves.  Disproving or arguing about the rumor could actually start a new rumor about the child being upset or looking defensive or acting guilty.

Don’t appear upset
This again can be quite difficult as it is logical that we would be upset.  Displaying emotions could add fuel to rumor.

Don’t confront the person spreading the gossip
Once again, confronting the person starting the rumor could cause more damage and enable them to feel justified to spread even more rumors.

Avoid the person spreading the gossip
Being around the person spreading the gossip can start additional rumors of how you couldn’t look them in the eye or how you gave them the evil eye.

Act amazed anyone cares or believes the gossip
Your peers are watching to see your reaction.  Let them know you really don’t care whether the gossip is true or not.

If it is true, your child could say:
      “People need to get a life!”
“Why would anyone care about that?”

If it is not true, act amazed anyone would believe it:
Some things your child could say are:

     “People are so gullible.”
      “Who would believe that?”

Spread the rumor about yourself
This requires your child to be proactive and not wait for their peers to ask about the rumor.  This requires three steps:

1.  Acknowledge the rumor exists
  “Have you heard this about me?”

2.  Discredit and make fun of the rumor
“How lame!”
“How stupid is this?”

3.  Act amazed anyone would believe or care about the rumor
  “Can you believe anyone cares about that?”
“People need to seriously get a life and find something else to talk about.”
“It’s amazing what some people will believe.”

Practicing these steps can help adolescents navigate and minimize the effects of rumors and gossip.  PEERS® is world-renowned for providing evidence-based social skills treatment to preschoolers, adolescents and young adults with ASD, AD/HD, anxiety, depression, and other socio-economic challenges.