Gossipy Girls… How to do I tame the trash talking?
Our youth group is small with 8 to 10 girls, ages 8th thru 10th grade. Several girls are constantly talking trash about each other. The trash gets passed around and around. Any suggestion to get control?
Patty, Roanoke, VA
Thank you for contacting The Source for ideas for ministry with the trash-talking girls in your youth group.
It's frustrating when you're trying to be a youth leader and feel like you have to be Dr. Phil in a referee outfit! Been there. Take heart: God is at work in you and the girls you care about. My overall advice is probably what you already know and are doing: Remain prayerful for these girls. Half of them probably wouldn't join in the gossip and backbiting if the other half weren't doing it. In other words, that's probably not the true character of some of the girls. The trick for you is to focus in on and call out what their true character is. So, keep your heart soft toward Jesus and them. Model a Christ-like response to their attitudes and conflict. Here's a link to an article that I think is relevant to your situation, Mean Church Girls.
My other advice is, don't allow your students to bad-mouth anyone. Make it calmly but directly clear that you don't want disrespect, sarcasm, or disunity in your group and you'll call them on it every time. Say something like, “I believe that some of you wouldn't even trash talk if you weren't so easily influenced by others. So I'm going to start calling everyone on it; no one person will be singled out, but no one will be exempt.”
We all know that there are “three sides to the story: yours, mine, and the truth.” One person's unintentional offense is another person's grudge. So don't get sucked into settling disputes between these girls if you had nothing to do with the disputes in the first place. When it comes up from a girl, be a great listener, but try not to take on their offense. (Prov. 17:9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.)
I realize this is easier said than done. So, if you really believe the disputing girls need to be in the same group together, get with each of them one-on-one and hear their individual sides. Keep bringing it back to them personally, making them take responsibility for their own attitudes (“What was going on inside you when you said/did that?” “What do you think is really behind your bad feelings toward so-n-so?” “What do you think God wants you to do about this?” “How will you keep this from coming between you and Jesus?”) Encourage them to do their part to either reconcile or set healthy boundaries. Then ask them if they're willing to work it out for the sake of their own growth as well as the group.
Sincere schmoozing doesn't hurt either. You could say something like, “I really want to see this group be a great thing for our girls, and it won't be the same for me, personally, if you're not there to be part of it. But I need you to be the 'big person'.” In this way, you're not scolding her so much as asking for her help and asking her to take ownership for how things go in group, at least where the girls are concerned.
One on one time is time-consuming, inconvenient, and hard work. But it's a great opportunity to get to know girls individually, without the influence of the others, and to pour your godly influence into their lives. We have some girl-oriented small group discussions and video clips that might fit into some of your teaching themes. From our home page check out CURRICULUM & JUMPSTARTERS underneath the FREE RESOURCES & IDEAS drop-down menu, and look at SPIRITUAL GROWTH AGENDAS for lots of great ideas. Also go to our MOVIE CLIP DISCUSSIONS page. There is a great movie clip about character and our actions from the film Stranger Than Ficiton that may be a good one for your girls. But there are so many good clips with lots of topics that you may find several that will be helpful with your studentsÕ behavior. (The clip from the movie Freaky Friday is one girls may especially like too.)
Here are some of my favorite girl-geared resources for youth workers and parents:
- Secret Keeper-The Delicate Power of Modesty by Dannah Gresh (Even though this is a “reading” book for teenage girls, I've used it to do a small group discussion on Modesty.)
- Growing Godly Women: A Christian Woman's Guide to Mentoring Teenage Girls by Donna Greene
- Reviving Ophelia-Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, Ph.D.
- The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders – Seven Principles Every Teenager Needs to Know by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall (Great section on teaching purity.)
- Mom, I Hate My Life! by Sharon A. Hersh, for moms with strong-willed daughters (Youth leaders can learn some good things about communicating with tough chicks from this book.)
Patty, I hope these ideas help with your ministry to girls. Thanks again for emailing us, and even more, for your investment in the lives of students!
Danette Matty, Resource Development
The Source for Youth Ministry
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.