But how do you keep harmless chatter from turning into mean gossip? Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, says you should first help kids recognize the difference between gabbing with pals and gossip. "Talking about people and experiences is actually an important part of social functioning," says Wiseman, and it's a way of getting advice and information. It only becomes gossip when your goal is to increase your social status by putting someone else down.
If you hear your tween putting someone down, let her know specifically why that doesn't jibe with your family values. "Try saying, 'It's totally common for people to gossip, but our family treats others with kindness, and refusing to repeat info about someone's personal life just to put her down shows great kindness,' " suggests Wiseman. Then point out how hurt she would be if people did that to her.
You can also suggest alternative ways of connecting with friends, such as being the buddy who gives positive reinforcement and compliments or the one who organizes group outings. Also make sure you're not encouraging her behavior by gossiping yourself.