- How can I stop a classmate from gossiping or spreading rumors about my child?
Background: How Rumors Get Started
Gossip helps us learn about the misadventures of others in order to avoid the mistakes they make. It's mostly negative because people can learn more from negative instances.1
Children start to gossip as young as four or five years old. Younger children say things like, "Crandall smells bad," about a child who has poor hygiene. Older children are more likely to believe gossip than younger children because they are more likely to realize the utility of gossip as a learning tool.2 Rumors (negative information about someone) begin in the context of gossip. Denial is the best means to dispel the negative effects of rumors. The best denial has strong arguments about why the rumor isn't true and how the source of the rumor is not credible.3
Jenny is a fourth grader who was Elissa's friend and classmate. After a play date at Elissa's house, Elissa noticed that one of her turtles was missing. She decided that Jenny was responsible, although she had left the turtles outside her house, where anyone could take them. The next day, she spread the rumor that Jenny had stolen the turtle. Once the rumor started, most children repeated it to others who hadn't heard it. Many children believed the rumor. Some were unsure, but nevertheless told their friends about it. Many girls started to avoid Jenny because of this rumor. Only two of Jenny's close friends did not believe it and stuck by her. Children were talking about this for the next two weeks.
Social psychologists list three conditions that help a rumor to spread:4
- The children are uncertain about the event in question. If they know it didn't happen, they won't spread the rumor. A child with a reputation of being honest is unlikely to have a rumor spread about her stealing.
- The children don't care about how true the rumor is. The truth of the rumor doesn't matter to children who aren't Jenny's friends.
- The rumor is about an issue that worries the children: losing a treasured pet.
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