Wednesday, December 01, 2010


I've never understood it.

As a grade 10 kid, a victim of bullying, one of my names was 'tattletale'. I knew that my classmates weren't supposed to trip me and shove me and call me names, so I told the teachers about them doing this. Not just once, many times. I finally gave up because the teachers weren't doing anything to stop it, but I still considered telling to be the right thing to do. I honestly believed the only people who thought being a 'tattletale' was a bad thing were bullies and other misbehavers. If you'd asked me back then if any adults were opposed to tattling, I'd have said only criminals were like that.

Apparently, I was wrong. I don't get it. How can an authority figure, who takes their position seriously, not want to be told of possible rule infractions? Sure, kids may, out of confusion or malice, report things that aren't really a problem. So what? You don't have to act on their report. If they're outright lying, that's a problem, but that's not tattling - it's lying. Tattling is informing an authority figure of a true behavior (for certain values of true, since it may depend on perspective) that you believe to be a rule infraction. And if you can trust the authority figure to have good rules and enforce them, then talking to them about rule infractions is clearly the right thing to do.

Besides, what about the kids who don't tell? 'Mike touched my private parts and I didn't want him to.' 'Jimmy's planning to bring a gun to school.' 'I think Susan's drinking too much.' 'Kyle's talking about killing himself.' 'I saw Laura beat Joanne up.' All those are potential messages you might be missing out on, if you discourage kids from talking about other kids' infractions. And the consequences of that are much worse than some minor annoyance.

Some people say that you should tell kids the difference between tattling and reporting, where tattling is stuff the authority figure doesn't want to hear and reporting is what they do want to hear. I say, don't confuse the issue just because you're sick of kids telling you that their classmates gave them a funny look or made a burping noise. Tell the kid that they're allowed to do that, if there's nothing wrong with it; or advise them on how they could resolve it on their own, if it's a personal dispute. But never discourage kids from telling you what's going on.

Remember, the research on bullying shows that teachers, despite thinking they have a good idea of what's going on in class, actually know only about 40% of what happens. Make sure you get told the remaining 60%, or you might be surprised by a suicide or other disaster.


Blogger Dan said...

It is the job if authority figures to show fake interest in the bad behavior of others, ignore it and shake their heads in wonderment when suecide or other tragety occours.

Police are the same way - punishment after the fact. Sadly the way of a bully is to push for a disproportionate reaction on the part of the victem - ouch - then the victem can be punished.

The fact is if a bully has social skills of 2 on a scale of 10, in order to deal with a bully you need social skills of 7 or 8. Bullys make trouble for anyone who tries to stop them and most teachers or even law enforcement refuse to put their jobs at risk but choose rather to go after the victem if they over react, as they have already been identified as the weaker link.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Leanne Strong said...

You are 100% spot on! Reporting (also known as informing or telling) is when you tell an adult about something because you are concerned about either your own safety or the safety of others, which is exactly what you were doing! Tattling (also known as snitching, whistle blowing, or ratting somebody out) is when you tell an adult about something just because you are trying to get somebody in trouble, or control somebody.

Instead of teaching kids not to tattle (or conversely, encouraging them to report every single wrongdoing on the part of another person), we should help them understand which incidents need to be immediately reported to a trusted adult, and which situations they should try to handle on their own first. I have Asperger's, and I know that many people on the Autism Spectrum are very concrete in their thinking, and so people need to be more specific with us. If you teach a child on the Autism Spectrum not to tattle, they will be more likely to think that it is NEVER ok to tell an adult about even the most serious incidents, because "it's tattling."

9:08 AM  

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