Cybergossip Can Play An Important Role in Teen Development
Gossip — particularly cybergossip — has a downside. While it can foster group inclusion, it’s also predicated on exclusion — which can be a fine line to (cyber)bullying. This potential harmful fallout is what most research has focused on to date. But a new study exploring the developmental benefits of cybergossiping, typically through instant messaging or social media, suggests the activity is not all bad for teens.
Led by study author Eva Romera, a professor of developmental and educational psychology at the University of Cordoba, Spain, and in collaboration with the University of Seville, Spain, and the University of Nariño, Colombia, the study found that evaluative comments made online about someone not present can have a positive effect on the adolescents involved, helping them better understand others in the group and feel more integrated.
In other words, Romera says, cybergossiping can be a way for teens to learn and build social and communication skills, with real-time feedback from their peers. This may sound superficial, but building social relationships is a key developmental milestone for teens.
The literature review analyzed all existing studies of online behavior and evaluative comments made by adolescents between ages 12 and 19. The team also developed a 9-question survey and interviewed 3,747 Spanish and Colombian students.
They concluded that both boys and girls engage in cybergossiping equally, and in similar ways. However, Colombian teenagers overall engaged less in cybergossiping than their Spanish counterparts, likely because Colombian culture places greater value on rule-following and the country has lower rates of social network use among teens.
The researchers are calling for cybergossiping to be addressed in classrooms from a positive perspective that acknowledges the activity can, if done correctly, help teens grow and develop. Romera says education systems should include curricula around how to interact on social networking sites in order to give teens the tools that to build healthy virtual relationships. Until schools do, it’s up to parents to teach kids the kind of digital citizenship that will help kids build relationships online in a positive, rather than negative, way.