This is really on my heart to share, so I hope it sparks at least just one conversation or makes someone think twice before speaking.
Today Blake and I went to eat lunch at Chipotle. It’s nice to see families and teenagers out enjoying their time together, but something bothered me.
We sat outside at a table, because it was noisy and crowded inside, and I don’t mind the heat anyway. We sat at a table in the shade next to 3 teenage girls, I’d say between 14 and 16. I was trying to have conversation with Blake and talk about how we were going to spend the rest of our day, but I couldn’t get past overhearing the swear words that were coming out of their mouth. I was trying to talk over them so Blake wouldn’t hear. Not only were they swearing practically every other word (The “F” word seemed to be a favorite), but they were using it to talk about other people they knew, mostly girls. I heard them make fun of two girls at their school, and one of them because the girl was “quiet and creepy”. I tried hard to tune them out, but it was getting more difficult to keep Blake from overhearing.
I really considered politely asking them to stop, for the sake of my 4 year old, but they saw him sitting next to me, so clearly they didn’t have any concern for his little ears. Or they just didn’t care.
The teacher in me, who is so passionate about having conversations about gossiping, kindness, bullying, and just teaching kids how to be a positive member of society, wanted to sit down with them, enjoy a lunch, and have a life conversation about how unhealthy what they were doing was, and how they are possibly ruining the life of other people with their words. (Because if they’re doing it so publicly and around a 4 year old, there’s no telling how this could be translating in the halls of their school, and on social media.) And how they were not any “cooler” for using such language.
I decided against it though, because I just wanted to get Blake away and I wasn’t sure of their reaction.
We moved our food and drinks to a small table inside. After we settled I began the conversation again of where we may go next. I suggested the Library, Blake suggested the park. Three teenagers were sitting across from us at a booth, 2 boys and 1 girl. I’d guess they were about the same age as the ones outside. I wasn’t paying attention to their conversation until my ears heard the f-word, yet again. Admittedly, I tuned into the conversation and they, too, were gossiping about another group of people at school, and how one girl was a “f****** b****”. They then went onto explain how they HEARD so-and-so “cheated” on so-and-so, and “this” person was an awful person for cancelling their evening plans at the last minute, and…..it just went on and on. There was quite a bit of he-said-she-said conversations, and they felt the need to add a bunch of fowl language to describe these people. At one point another girl whom I assume they knew walked in the door and they began snickering to one another.
Thankfully this time it was loud enough inside and I’m certain Blake couldn’t hear their language or conversation, so I didn’t feel the need to move, but I hurried our meals along just to get out of there. My heart was racing, and I couldn’t believe we nearly had to move a second time for the same reason. I was mad at their language and having no regard for any children around them, the lack of respect, the nasty comments, the gossip, and I was sad for the people they felt they need to gossip about, and just upset at our whole society for how people are.
We’ve had 2 celebrity suicides this week, and though I do not know the circumstances and reasons behind them, we cannot ignore the epidemic of depression and mental illnesses. This is a fact. I cannot argue.
But, there’s more. We can’t “fix” someone’s mentality if we don’t fix the reason they have that mentality.
If someone is told every day they are stupid, they are eventually going to believe it. Now, as a parent or teacher we can then teach that child to not think of themselves as stupid, we can teach them how to have a growth mindset, and teach them to brush it off. We can send them to the guidance counselor, continue building them up. We can teach them to be strong. Raise a tough kid with a thick skin, who is strong, sweet, and loving. All of this is important.
We can spend our time and wheels counseling the broken one, but doing nothing about the one who could be causing the break is where we also fall short.
We need to teach the ones that are doing the hurting that they are wrong. That words are hurtful. They need to learn the consequences of what those words can carry, whether it’s said in person or through gossip. We need to prevent mean girls from being mean girls, (and boys, because I heard it from both!)
And they need to be disciplined if they continue to do so. Natural consequence doesn’t always catch up, we need intentional consequence sometimes.
Gossip is conversation about someone else that doesn’t lift a person up. If I tell my friend that you are moving to another house, that isn’t gossip. It’s just information. But if I tell my friend you are moving because you couldn’t afford it anymore and the bank was taking it away, then I’ve just gossiped. What I said did nothing to lift you up. It was, in fact, hurtful to your reputation and I had no business telling my friend something that personal about you. Unless you gave me permission.
We need to coach the one who is being called names, or who is being talked about. We need to teach them how to handle themselves around such people, and how to believe in themselves enough to know those words to not describe them.
We need to have conversations with people about why not to call someone names or gossip, and WHY it isn’t okay to do so, AND we HAVE to teach consequences, and seek to understand why in the world they think this is okay (because may be they have issues, too)
And we need to have consistent discipline plans in action when this continues.
This isn’t about just kids and teens. Adults are just as guilty as being some of THE most gossipy people I’ve ever met. We have to consider the fact that we are the ones teaching our kids that talking about others is okay, if we aren’t fixing ourselves first.
It can take 100 positive and encouraging comments to ease the blow of one negative.
The girls outside today sat around a table and listed off bullet point after bullet point of awful things about one girl. And those 3 girls are going to leave Chipotle and maybe text their friends about what was said about that one girl, maybe put it on Instagram, talk about it while they shop, where possibly another overhears, and I can’t help but think that the girl they talked about may never ever know all of the horrible things that were said about her. BUT, she is going to NEED 8,000 positive and encouraging comments to help build her reputation to negate what was said during a lunch with friends once “word gets out”. She may never know what was said. But, everyone else will. And eventually it’s going to become an issue.
Please, no matter what age, start having conversations with your kids about how to talk to others. Talk to them about what to do or say when people say things about them. Let them know it’s not okay to talk about others.
Ask if they’re okay. Don’t judge them, just listen then talk.
I’m not blaming any of your children, but don’t think, “Oh my kid would never do or say that”, because the teens I saw today looked like nice teens.
Until they opened their mouths.