For most people, especially young people, hearing one person demean another is an especially juicy piece of gossip. As a result, it's one of the hardest to keep from sharing, especially from the person the insulting comments are about. They sometimes justify it by telling themselves, "I'm just being a good friend by telling her. After all, I'd want to know if someone said something mean about me, wouldn't I?"
Well, would you really? Consider what happened to Mandy. Mandy was a high school senior. She was bright and outgoing and had a tight group of friends she had strong relationships with. But her relationship with her mother was another story. The two fought constantly and disrespectfully – much more than the typical teenager and parent. So they'd been attending counseling together to help resolve their differences and improve their relationship.
In one of their counseling sessions, Mandy surprised the counselor, and her mother, by sharing her most recent reason for being upset. Apparently one of her mother's best friends had spoken of her quite unkindly. Mandy complained, "She said I was 'fat and stupid,".
Her mother responded quickly, "I've never heard her say anything like that about you. What makes you think that?"
Mandy was vague and evasive in her response, so the counselor asked her directly, "Mandy, who told you that?"
Mandy said, "I don't have to tell you that. I don't want to get anyone in trouble. Let's just say that one of my friends overheard her saying it at school in the drop offline, and she told me."
"Really?" her counselor asked, looking confused. "A friend of yours told you that?"
"Yes, of course. I have loyal friends. They look out for me."
The counselor's response was the last thing Mandy expected to hear. She said, "It sounds to me like you need better friends."
That took Mandy aback. She didn't understand it at first. But she could also tell there was some wisdom in it that she just didn't grasp yet. So she asked, "What do you mean, better friends?"
"Mandy, I'm not excusing what that woman said about you. It was unkind and uncalled for. But she didn't hurt your feelings when she said it, because she didn't say it to you. Your feelings got hurt when your friend told you about it. A good friend would protect you from hurtful things like that, not bring them to your attention."
Those words hung in the air as Mandy processed them. She'd never thought of it that way. Perhaps her friend had done her a disservice. And she's certain she'd done the same thing on many occasions with her friends. She may not have made much progress in her relationship with her mother at that session. But she gained a whole new perspective on what friendship means.
Okay, once you've shared this story with your child, have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.
Why do you think Mandy's friend told her what that woman said about her?
Before you heard this story, would you have told her if you were her friend?
Now that you've heard this story, would you change your mind? Why or why not?
How would knowing someone called her "fat and lazy" help Mandy?
How would you decide if it was a good idea to share something unpleasant like that with a friend? What kind of things would you want to consider?
Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about whether or not you should even let someone share gossip about you when they try.