Rumor Has It: How to Help Your Teen Deal with Haters

“Look at all these rumors surroundin’ me every day” – Timex Social Club

In the 80s, there was a little-known and short-lived band called the Timex Social Club, who received moderate success for their song “Rumors.” It’s a cheesy little number but makes an excellent point about the damage reckless gossip can do.

Rumors have been a topic in our house plenty of times – either we’ve heard them or been the victim of them. We *may* have actually spread them once or twice too. I think particularly for high school students, gossip is a part of the social fabric. Everyone loves a good scandal and sharing it feels delicious.

However, being the subject of the stories leaves a very bitter taste in one’s mouth. So, when my 16-year-old daughter comes to me upset because someone she trusted has circulated false information about her or a friend, my first instinct is to storm the castle.

But then, I take a deep breath, and we talk about it. I prefer the triage method:

    • “What was said?”  Some stories are ridiculous, like, “Joe ran through the school wearing nothing but a smile.”  I can turn that into a punchline and we can move on with our day. But, when they are unflattering or just plain vicious, then I have to ask more questions.
    • Who was the source?”  You can tell a lot about a rumor by who is starting or repeating it. If it’s the jilted potential suitor or an outspoken parent, then I talk to my daughter about people and pain, and how low their anger can take them. I want her to understand that this behavior says nothing about her and everything about the other person.
    • “How do you feel about it?”  Now I need to get a read on how much damage has been done. A teenager’s self-esteem can be so fragile. Even if the gossip is a complete lie, the fear of peers believing it could cause major anxiety. The hard truth I have to convey to my daughter is that we can’t control what comes out of other people’s mouths. Yes, some folks may believe the stories. Who we give our energy to, however, are the ones that don’t.
    • How do you want to handle it?  This is the big one, and there are a couple of ways to go here. The first and my favorite is to ignore it. Gossip can’t grow if you give it life.  The second choice, laugh it off. If you think it is funny, hopefully, everyone else will too. A third option is to confront the offender. While this may seem terrifying, I remind my daughter that it is also an opportunity for empowerment – and to show people the effects of their actions.

I hope my daughter will always strive to “be a voice, not an echo.” I hope she will be the type of person that won’t listen to rumors and won’t help spread them. That she will develop a thick skin so that she can confidently live her own truth. And, I hope that if she ever sees an injustice, she will step up and kick a little butt.

 

 

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