It is forbidden to speak derogatorily about children.1 While adults understand that “kids are kids” and their negative behavior is often excused as normal immaturity, if the information casts this particular child in a bad light it should not be spoken or listened to. The Chofetz Chaim stresses that it is also forbidden to mention something about a child which is not derogatory but is harmful. The example offered is where someone mentions something negative about a child in the presence of his foster parents. While the information is not derogatory and may describe behavior common to children, it may make the foster parents unwilling to care for this child. The Chofetz Chaim notes that sometimes children can be punished excessively by their natural parents because of information about their behavior which angered the parent. Therefore, one should exercise caution before relating any such information.
From their end, parents and teachers should be careful not to discipline children based on negative reports without following the basic rule for acceptance of loshon hora: the parent or teacher must first investigate the report and determine that it is accurate. Only then can he or she take action.
Rabbi Avraham Pam z”l, used to tell the story of a young child who was punished when an item was found in his knapsack which a fellow classmate had been missing. The apparent culprit insisted that he had not stolen the item and that he had no idea how it had gotten into his knapsack. The teacher refused to believe him and punished him by having him wear a sign which read, “I am a thief.” A long time passed before another boy came along and admitted that he had stolen the item. He had wanted to return it but was too ashamed to admit his guilt, so he stuffed the item into another boy’s knapsack.
An innocent child was humiliated publicly because his teacher immediately accepted the evidence and ignored the child’s protests. If this could happen in a case where the evidence seemed so convincing, how careful must we be not to take action based on reports without first investigating the matter.
1This is the interpretation of the text of Sefer Chofetz Chaim as explained in Sefer Sh’vil HaChaim.