Gossip Can Promote Self-Reflection & Growth

Gossip usually has a bad reputation. As parents, we may cringe when we hear our kids talking about their peers—especially in a negative light. But new research by scientists in the Netherlands, reported in APA’s Monitor on Psychology this month, suggests that hearing gossip about other people is valuable. Positive gossip leads to self-improvement. When we hear about other people doing well, we are apparently more inclined to work harder in our own lives.

But negative gossip also can be helpful, in two ways. When we hear negative things about other people, we instinctively compare ourselves, leading to increased pride in our self-judgements. In addition, negative gossip elicits our fear and anxiety about becoming targets of others’ negative gossip in the future. Our self-protectiveness kicks in, therby prompting us to guard against tarnishing our reputations.

When guiding kids, it’s important to differentiate between gossiping, or relating information about others in ways that benefit both individuals and society as a whole, and rumormongering, which is more likely be harmful, especially when it involves spreading false information. Teens and tweens, who base their self-esteem on peer acceptance, are vulnerable to long-lasting effects of the name-calling and false rumors that often give rise to bullying.

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