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Dealing with mobile gossip
Social media websites appeal to the voyeur in all of us. The want, need or desire to look “over the garden fence” so to speak and into the lives of friends, family and even colleagues in a way that was not possible 10 years ago has become oh so easy with the mobile phone.
Social Media sites have bought us back together, enriching our lives by reconnecting people far and wide, while at the same time evoking the bully, the critic or the abuser in some. It has unfortunately become a platform whereby many young people (and some adults) criticise, swear, curse and brag about certain elements in their lives and the lives of others.
Parents are usually encouraged to get involved and to (if need be) force their way into their child’s online social life. But, back in the day, it was the norm to talk to your friends about various issues surrounding your life. This chitchat would happen at school, at a friend’s house or during sleepovers and camping trips. Also, ever so often the discussions were a far cry from what you would normally discuss with your parents or want them to know about. The problem however, is that nowadays youth are making these ‘close circle‘conversations open to the public via a variety of platforms including SMS, Facebook, Twitter, BBM and MXit.
Various resources say that gossip teaches young people about their social circle: what kind of conduct is and is not acceptable, why people are liked or disliked, how to resolve conflicts and navigate status issues. Children often go through a shy and awkward phase and struggle with the difficulty of social and communication skills. Social media allows that extra time to formulate one's thoughts and express them more clearly, humourously, diplomatically, or more honestly. One might argue then that this should be seen as a helpful tool in your child’s development. Truth be told - It can be, but for most children it is not.
As with everything, gossip tends to spread like wild fire. Picture this - A fight breaks out at school between two girls, someone captures it via video on their mobile phone and within minutes half the town sees the cat fight. The person who made the video might get a false sense of worth or celebrity status for capturing and posting such an event. But for the two fighting, what may have been a once-off mistake becomes an entertaining video that will be repeated over and over again.
Gossip may seem like an innocent form of normal teenage life and from the outside the topics may seem inane or superficial. However, to the participants the conversations often center on areas of their life in which they are heavily invested.
With this in mind, one should look at the implications this may have for children spreading and affected by gossip:
- Destroy self-confidence;
- Affect self-esteem;
- Give them a complex;
- Alienate friends from one another;
- Ruin reputations;
- Cause jealousy;
- Anxiety; and
Here are some guidelines to protect your child from sharing too much (according to Reece W. Manley, Selfgrowth.com):
- Build your child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. The stronger a child’s self-esteem, the less likely they are to stumble in the face of potential rumor making. Building self-esteem comes from a number of sources. These may include a stronger ability to problem solve, ability to receive and process compliments and an ability to handle social situations.
- Identify the gossip and help your child or the target of the rumor understand the falsehoods contained in it. Help your child confront those spreading the rumors with the idea of resolving the behavior immediately. This might mean that your child should refrain from commenting on gossip on social media sites and to apologise to victims if they were involved.
- Encourage your child to have a wide range of interests and a wide range of friends outside the internet playground – thus, real life interests and friends. Teach them to invest time in these activities.
- Spend time learning to understand your child’s world and what meanings are attached to what actions. Help them identify personal strengths and reinforce those strengths.
- In the face of gossip, children may need to learn to apply social skills which help resolve the underlying conflict or issue. If the issue is unrealistic or imagined, children need to learn to say as much in the face of those applying the bullying behavior. When possible, conflict resolution can be assisted by parents.
These guidelines will only be useful if you know about the gossip. Either your child tells you about it or you see it on their social media site of choice. In the light of the damage it can do, it is not advisable to too choose to ignore this. It may have devastating effects on your child, and so, in the interests of your child, be brave and tackle their technical territory. Who knows, you might even enjoy it.