Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rumours, lies, and half-truths

Sixth grade can be a wonderful middle ground between the playful innocence of the younger years and the more complex teenage years. But it can also be a minefield of hurt feelings and poor choices.

In the last few weeks, we have had a couple of cases of foolish behavior. Playing recorder through the nose and playing lasso-tag top the list. But we have had a couple of cases of rumormongering that concern me more.

The situation goes something like this. One student misreads a situation, and promptly shares their conclusions. Before you know it, the whole group is a-buzz and the poor misunderstood student at the center of it all is in tears.

In the normal course of things, sixth-graders as a group have a tendency to be both tactless and over-sensitive. They don't always realize how their words can hurt others, and they are easily insulted by the careless remarks of others. They roll their eyes, they huff and puff. They can be quick to rush to judgement, and slow to admit fault. Often ruffled feathers can be smoothed and friendships patched up before everyone goes home on the bus.

In the social development of young people, there are certain nuances to be learned. Such as when to tell your best friend a key piece of vital information, and when to keep it to yourself to spare her feelings. When to 'help' someone by telling others who they have a crush on, and when to keep a secret. How to apologize and have people know you meant it. How to give a compliment without making it sound like an insult. This list goes on.

The rumor-spreading is harder to address than any of these. Is it ill-intentioned, or does it simply snowball out of control? Do the students recognize when they are spreading rumours? Most importantly, can they stop?

Some of this they will outgrow, and some of this is a normal part of the learning curve. Nevertheless, ignoring it won't make it go away. You can help your child by discussing with them what kinds of things they should and shouldn't share, as well as how to avoid spreading rumors. Two good rules are that they shouldn't repeat things that are hurtful, and they shouldn't say something behind someone's back that they wouldn't say to their face. Another strategy for fending off 'helpful' remarks that are intended to wound is simply to ask, "Why are you telling me this?"

Helping your child develop strategies to ward off rumors and detect lies will help them navigate the halls of high school that much more easily. But until then, the rumor mill has to stop.

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