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Kids’ Attitudes Toward Others Poisoned by One Bad Bit of Gossip
Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ
Sunday, May 26, 2024


Gossip influences everyone, but when it comes to kids, the effect can be devastating for some.

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

Gossip is the human grapevine for honest or skewed information to poison people against someone or something. For kids, it can be particularly devastating, and this is where the seeds of empathy, understanding, and critical thinking must be sewn to enable children to question gossip.

One study used single and multiple sources of information to test how children may use gossip and whether positive or negative gossip is accepted. Because of the number of sources, gossip may be true if several informants convey the same reputational information about others, implying that a social group agrees on their morality.

Researchers studied whether 7-year-olds would trust numerous independent gossip sources. They got positive/negative reputational information. The 7-year-olds relied on favorable gossip from numerous sources, more than one. But, regardless of the source, they relied on negative talk.

Kids need to learn how to befriend their peers because feeling linked to or affiliated with them is good for their mental health. Because friendship is so important, figuring out what makes kids become friends is an important research topic for studying these relationships. However, children have a basic understanding of distinguishing between positive and negative relationships regarding friends and the contributions of gossip.

Children think someone who spreads good gossip is nice; they think someone who spreads bad gossip is mean. In addition, they would rather talk to someone who shares good gossip than bad gossip.

Teacher’s biggest problem right now is helping kids tell the difference between real facts and all the fake news and misleading information they see on the computers and phones they use all the time. This, we could say, is the digital form of gossiping. And how can they do what’s needed today and in the future? It lies in critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking is one of the most important skills that kids need to learn today. It not only helps students make better connections between what they learn in school and real life, but it also prepares them for the future by helping them deal with the huge amount of information that is out there.

Many school leaders at all levels have added critical thinking to their lessons, but few focus on actually teaching the skill, and even fewer have found good ways to test it. Students can learn this important skill and show off their skills to teachers and, more importantly, employers by using micro-credentialing sites.

Turning learning paths into real-world activities and routes that can be used helps the change from memorizing to developing skills. Remembering times, facts, and formulas is no longer necessary for students. Furthermore, telling students to remember things might make them less interested. Youths know that the data they require is changing faster than ever, which makes them less inclined to remember it, especially since they can quickly find anything they need to know.

When adults are around someone known to spread rumors, they are more likely to work together because they want to protect their image and avoid being a victim of the rumor mill. Receiving someone’s cooperation can be a reward for people who like to gossip. Others are more likely to work with you on things if they know you talk about other people. Gossiping ends up helping a gossiper. Others will then talk because they see that it pays off.

It’s a grapevine I once used when leading a house union. I discovered the identity of the person taking everything back to management and used it to our advantage—and I was right. We carefully detailed our plans in union memos to members and ensured the “gossiper” would also receive them because he was a member of our union.

How Do We Teach Children Critical Thinking?

Skills like critical thinking must be developed over time without assuming a “right” or “wrong” attitude and by encouraging debate, not arguments. These must change to match the child’s needs in terms of their intellectual development; that goes without saying. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Deeply understand problems and find assumptions by asking “why,” “how,” and “what if” questions.
    2. Be neutral when examining the evidence: Check the information’s usefulness, accuracy, and thoroughness.
    3. Thoughtfully consider various points of view: Consider different acceptable points of view that might differ from your own.
    4. Finding and questioning assumptions: Not all claims should be taken at face value.
    5. Examine arguments: Look for logical errors by breaking down claims and statements into premises and conclusions.
    6. Utilize logical thinking. Let logic and facts guide your decisions instead of relying on feelings or anecdotes.
    7. Find clarity: Request clarifications on words you do not understand and avoid unclear claims.
    8. Talk about creative ideas: People who hear your ideas can help you think more clearly and gain new insights.
    9. Debate with respect: Engage in polite conversations with disagreeing people.
    10. Consider your choices and thoughts: Ask yourself questions about your ideas and conclusions to avoid assuming the worst.

Technology and the ability to manipulate information in all forms (visual, sound, and text) will increase our mental load. To make accurate assessments, we must hone our critical thinking skills as we teach them to children.

Website: www.drfarrell.net

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Twitter: @drpatfarrell

Attribution of this material is appreciated.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Title: Licensed Psychologist
Group: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., LLC
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ United States
Cell Phone: 201-417-1827
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