When Tattling Is Good
Date: November 1, 2010
Being the youngest in my family with three big brothers, I always seemed to find something to tattle about. Was my tattling a ploy to get attention? I suspect so … at least some of the time.
Whatever the reason, some might say my childhood job was to be the family informer. Sometimes I tattled because I was mad at one of my brothers, and I wanted to get him in trouble. Of course, he usually was worthy of getting in trouble, and I just passed along the incriminating information.
Many children fear the label of “fink,” “rat,” “squealer,” or “blabbermouth.” But there are many things children should feel free and comfortable to tell a trusted adult. They may be embarrassed or ashamed of an inappropriate gesture toward them, and their confusion can make them hold their tongue when they should, in fact, tell what was done.
Sometimes our friends confide in us, and it can be difficult for us to know the difference between secrets that we should keep and those that we need to be shared with another.
I had a young childhood friend who vowed me to secrecy about an adult’s inappropriate behavior toward her. It was a secret I kept her entire life. My friend died several years ago, and I’m still sad because she may have endured a lot of pain and unhappiness, and I never did anything to stop it.
It had been easy for me to snitch on my brothers, yet, I couldn’t blab about my friend’s experience to my mother or some other authority figure.
Children must be taught the difference between senseless tattling and a legitimate complaint or concern. The statistics* about bullying and sexual abuse in children are alarming:
• 43 percent of sixth-grade students reported being bullied in 2007.
• 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
• 40 percent are abused by older children they know.
Helping children take at look at their motives for keeping something a secret or telling an adult is a good place to start a conversation. Are they tattling on someone to make himself or herself look good or just to get attention? Have they been asked or threatened not to tell? Do they feel compelled to share something that affects another’s emotional or physical safety? Do they want to help protect someone? Is there an emergency … is danger imminent?
When I was 11, a friend tattled on me, and I was suspended from school for three days. I don’t think I ever thanked this friend for her brave actions. It was clearly her concern for my safety, as well as that of others, that she snitched. I was at first humiliated and angry. But I can tell you now that her tattling completely altered my life. I was forced to make some needed changes that put me on a better path for the rest of my life.
Parents who have a child who never hesitates to keep them informed, shouldn’t discourage the line of communication. As crazy as those little constant-talkers may make you some days, parents don’t want to teach their child to shut up. The era of being seen and not heard ended long ago.
Let’s teach our kids how to evaluate and process information so they know what’s important, and how and when to tell. Your child may end up saving another child’s life … just as my friend saved mine.
Annette Bridges is a mother, writer and former public and home-school teacher, who lives in Texas. Visit her website at www.annettebridges.com.
* Sources: National Center for Education Statistics and Darkness2Light.org
When to Tell?
Talk with your child about when he or she has experienced, witnessed or had certain knowledge of:
• Cruel words
• Bullying behavior
• Inappropriate gestures
• Dangerous risks
• Destructive actions
• Life-threatening situations