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'Tune In' to Tumultuous Teenage Gossip

Gossip is communication. If your teenager off-handedly tells you a remnant of something going on, tune in!
09/24/2015 11:56am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Gossip is communication. If your teenager off-handedly tells you a remnant of something going on, tune in!

"Hey, Lindsay just got a new designer bag. It's so cool. Her parents are really rich."

"Jason is talking really fast lately. Wonder what he's on."

"Paola is missing lots of school. They say she's been drinking a lot. I think it's something else, though."

When these small and large bombshells are said right in front of you so you're supposed to listen, tune in. The comment may be said directly to you in the midst of an otherwise innocent conversation or you may be subtly being asked to eavesdrop when your teenager is talking on the phone right next to you which she never does. Stop what you're saying or doing and enter the conversation.

It's essential to interact with your teenager at these moments when you hear compelling comments because it's an invitation to communicate about something your teen is struggling with. Respect their wishes on the spot because they may have just sent out a trial balloon to see if you're willing to tackle difficult topics with them.

Caught Off-Guard?

If by chance, you're caught off guard and let the moment pass, all is not lost. You can quickly recover and come back to the subject at hand. Let your son or daughter know you heard their passing comment and would like to listen. If they say, "Oh, that was nothing" remember they did say it and now are having trouble regaining the nerve they had a few minutes before. Don't give up. In a gentle way, suggest it seems to be on their minds, though, and whenever they want, you're still there to discuss it.

Respect Your Teen

If your teenager tells you about their peer's odd behavior, this is huge news. Respect that your son or daughter is troubled by this and that even though it may have been mentioned off-handedly, they were testing the waters to see your reaction. Without overreacting -- a definite no-no -- proceed openly, though with caution, and ask for more of what your child is imagining is going on. By all means, take their worries seriously. Do not be dismissive because what they are saying is disturbing to you and you wish you could kind of disappear. You are needed. Be there.

Did You Over-React?

Maybe you couldn't help yourself and you reacted too dramatically:

"That's terrible. Stay away from him from now on. I forbid you to be friends!"

That definite oops should be followed by a definite and quick apology!

"I'm really sorry. I don't mean that. You must be concerned. I am too. It just scared me for a minute there. What's up? What are you thinking?"

That's an effective recovery that may lead to the needed conversation your teen was headed for.
If they don't respond in kind and say: "Nah. Forget it." Gently persist, "No. I meant it. I'm sorry. What do you think is going on?" Then you'll be on the right track.

Gossip Contains an Important Intended Message

When your adolescent gossips with you, you are being included in their inner and outer world. What sounds like chit-chat, rumor, or hearsay is an invitation to engage.

Has this happened to you? Let us hear how you handled it.

If it happens again, grab the opportunity and your parent-teen relationship will bloom!

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Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst with an upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, to be released October 13.

This post was first viewed on Mom's Magazine.