We’ve been talking about the destructive effects of gossip and how you can address gossip amongst your youth leaders. Now it’s time to focus on our students and what we as youth leaders can do when they gossip.
Teens nowadays grow up in a world where gossip is rampant, big business even. Tabloids pay big bucks for stories about celebrities and many people have made a living spreading gossip about others. There’s even a whole TV series named after this almost favorite pastime for many teens, especially girls (‘Gossip Girl’).
That means our message that gossiping is a bad habit, a sin even, is a very counter cultural statement. Getting teens to see that may be a bit of a challenge, but it is the necessary first step.
1. Expose gossip as a sin
No matter if it’s counter cultural or not, we have to expose gossip as a sin. My best guess would be that a personal approach where you focus on the hurt and pain gossip can cause would be the best approach. There are plenty of verses in the Bible to choose from that speak out against gossip (Proverbs is full of them for instance) and there are also a lot of verses that positively state the opposite (verses that tell us to love others, think highly of them, etc).
2. Make gossip a topic for conversation
Don’t just teach once on gossip and leave it at that, make it a regular topic of both formal and informal discussions. This will often work best in a small group setting where there’s more openness and where students dare to be more vulnerable. Talk about being the victim of gossip and what they do themselves to others. Make sure to not be judgmental, but to simply make it a regular topic for conversation.
I also think it’s important to challenge teens to examine their own motives for participating in gossip. Often insecurity, low self esteem or a deep desire to be liked and accepted can be cause to gossip. See if you can identify the underlying reasons and talk about this. As always, it’s far more effective to solve the core problem than to try and combat the symptomatic behavior.
3. Address gossip consistently
The first step here is to make statements against gossiping in your youth group rules, for instance in your code of conduct or your small group rules. Everyone, including the students, needs to know that there’s a no tolerance policy against gossip.
Then, if you see or hear teens gossiping, talk about it with them. Confront them with their behavior lovingly, but consistently. Both elements are important. You have to address gossip within the relationship you already have with a student so it comes off as genuine concern and loving care, not as judgment. If you’re not really that familiar with the student, it may be better to ask the small group leader to talk to him or her. You also have to be consistent in addressing gossip, so make sure all your leaders are on board with this. If one small group leader doesn’t address it for instance, it will have a crippling effect on the efforts of the rest of the leaders.
If you hear gossip and you don’t know the source, at least talk about it with the victim. You may think that ignoring it is better (‘maybe she’ll never find out’) but in my opinion it’s better to bring it into the light and talk about it. When necessary, you can even help state the truth about the rumors being spread.
How do you address the issue of gossip with your students?