A Parenting Revelation: It’s Time To Stop Punishing Tattletales

Here’s a parenting question: Do you know what we can do right now to empower our kids, help prevent sexual abuse, hinder bullies, put criminals behind bars and foster corporate and organizational transparency?

The Answer: We have to stop punishing our tattletales.

A Little Background

I spend most of my afternoons watching the neighborhood kids play in the common area of our condominium complex. My son is only four years old, and like most four-year-olds, he shouldn’t be allowed to play in an open area without at least one adult there to supervise him. I don’t manage his play or boss him around – I’m just there to make sure he doesn’t try to teach the cat to ride a skateboard or climb the tree with pencil-thin branches. Basically, my job is to monitor.

Enter: The Tattletale. Every day, at least once, one of the kids (ages 3-12) comes up to me and tattles on my son or one of the other kids: “He called me a name.” “She won’t share.” “He’s crying.” “They were hitting.” The kids tell me because they need my help to solve a problem. It is my job as a parent and an adult to get to the root of the problem, so the kids get back to the business of playing.

What makes me different from many other parents?  I refuse to punish the messenger.  I simply can’t shame a child for coming to me and reporting wrongdoing. I thank them for trusting me enough to tell me the truth and reporting bad behavior.

These kids – the tattlers – aren’t lying. They aren’t “setting up” their peers. They just want to play and they don’t want naughty behavior to ruin it. Kids just want their peers to know that everyone needs to be nice, behave in a positive manner, and cooperate. These kids – the tattlers – are setting the bar, and setting it high. And they are being transparent about it.

It goes against everything I believe to tell a tattler, “Both of you are in trouble:  Little Johnny for hitting and little Sally for telling.”

Why?  Because when we punish tattletales, we are teaching our children to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing.  We are teaching them that reporting wrongdoing is just as bad as committing the crime.

In fact, I don’t call it tattling anymore.  I call it “mandatory reporting.”

Tattling Isn’t Bad

I have asked a couple of adults I know why they punish their tattletales.  I make sure to stress that the tattletale is telling the truth and just wants to report behavior that is wrong.  Their response: “Because tattling is wrong.  No one likes a tattletale.”

So the rationale becomes: if you report wrongdoing, no one will like you.

Is that what we want our kids to take into adulthood?

In fact, I know firsthand that the opposite is true.  When my son plays with the local “mandatory reporter,” everyone plays nicely because they know that bad behavior will be punished.  There are no secrets and no ultimatums (“Do as I say or I’ll tell”) because if there is bad behavior, someone is going to tell an adult.  Period.  No bargaining allowed.

Even better, the mandatory reporter in our neighborhood is spunky, funny, popular and nice.  She’s a good, smart, moral kid who can talk easily to children and adults.  Everyone likes her.  Especially me.

And I don’t think she should be punished for letting me know that I need to intervene. That’s why I am there.  It’s my job to help the kids.

Transparency Protects Kids

For those of you who don’t know me, I am an advocate and activist for adults who were sexually abused as children.  In addition, I help train parents and teachers on recognizing sings of abuse, reporting abuse, and raising empowered children who are less likely to be abused.  I am also a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and I can’t sit idly and let what happened to me happen to another child.  A huge part of my job is telling people that we need to raise our children in a world of no secrets.

Childhood sexual abuse, bullying, and other crimes that plague our children thrive in secrecy. They thrive in a world where kids are scared to talk to an adult.  They thrive in a world where “tattletales” are punished.  Predators thrive because we were programmed as children to believe that tattling is wrong, even though we don’t rationally know why. The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is a perfect example.

If we tell our kids not to tattle on their peers, how are they able to differentiate one, two or five years later when they learn that a friend is being sexually abused? Or they see a peer beating up another child? Or they know a child who is responsible for cyber-bullying a classmate? Is that tattling, too? How do they know the difference? It’s simple: They don’t.

Bullies know that they can threaten kids into silence by saying, “You’ll just get in trouble for telling on me.” Remember, a 13- or 14-year-old does not have adult powers of reason. To a child or teen, “telling on” someone– no matter the crime – is tattling.

Parents may argue, “Well, my kid knows the difference and would tell me.” But I disagree. If you punish your child for tattling on the 5-year-old neighbor kid who hit his friend, you’ve already laid the groundwork. You’ve told your child that turning a blind eye to wrongdoing is more admirable than transparency.  You’re telling your child that if she reports abuse – whether she was a victim or a witness – she will be punished.

As a part of my job, I give presentations all over the country about protecting kids. Almost every time, a teen or young adult approaches me and says, “I have friends who were abused, but I couldn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t want to tattle.”

Think it stops there?  Think again. One of the toughest parts of my job is convincing mandatory reporters that they have to report SUSPECTED abuse. Mandatory reporters stay silent because are afraid that they will get punished or that they may get an innocent person into trouble. What I have to stress is that the system of reporting SUSPECTED abuse understands that it’s just SUSPECTED … and they need to report, even if an investigation proves that their suspicions were wrong. I am lucky to get people to report when they witnessed abuse … or when they discover child abuse images (child porn) … or when a child tells them they are being hurt.

The ramifications of our reticence to report crimes are widespread. Why do you think we have to have “whistleblower protection” laws to make sure that people who report wrongdoing aren’t subject to retaliation?

Add to that the myriad of problems in politics, unions, clubs, communities, and other organizations/movements/beliefs.  People witness crimes in these arenas all of the time, yet they are scared to report even if they are victimized or witnessed the crime.  Why?  They grew up being taught that it’s wrong to tattle on their friends.

If you need anymore proof, look at your saving account or the value of your home.  We ended up with a banking scandal because people believed “it was not my place” to report the crimes of their co-workers.  We ended up with widespread mortgage fraud because thousands of people said nothing because they were taught that silence was more admirable than protecting the innocent.

It’s really not that much of a stretch.

 

55 thoughts on “A Parenting Revelation: It’s Time To Stop Punishing Tattletales

  1. Ok no! telling is completly different from tattling. You should punish your tattler to teach them not to be a snitch. but telling is when you are gonna be harmed or raped, or worse, or when someone else is. Your pretty dumb so lemme tell you the difference. Tattling: to intentionally get someone in trouble.

    Telling: to tell somebody to save them or yourself from any harm.

    1. “Your pretty dumb….” Is that really necessary? You know, you can get your argument across without resorting to belittling someone.

    2. You are not worried abt saving people from harm when you teach this to children.

      Teaching children to tattle is sick intrusive parenting. Parents who want to control their children’s every move to the point they cant mesker any decisions but what mother wants. Norman bates. Check out what psychopaths and sociopaths say about mommy dearest. I was one of 8. My mother was eldest of 11. She would snack us for eating out and tattling on someone we SHOULD HAVE been loyal to. Pettiness! The children being tattled ON resent the tattler to the point of hatred that Carrie’s throughout life. Do not damage permanent long term relationships between siblings! A jealous, vengeful, petty, controlling woman does this. Boy, I’m ever thankful of every smack my mother gave me and I love my siblings fiercely. If anyone were going to do something morally wrong or dangerous, I would have gone to mom first, IF I could not have USED MY OWN BRAIN to solve the issue, because of her moral strength and character. But that’s what parenting is all about. Teaching your kids to make good and moral decisions when YOU ARE NOT AROUND

      1. No, it’s not “sick, intrusive parenting.” It is LISTENING to a child. Sure, they come to you with silly stuff from time to time, but they need to be guided and taught what is important, until they can learn to discern for themselves. OF COURSE a child who is being tattled on is pissed: they didn’t get away with their crap! But sorry, rules are there for a purpose, and if someone is not obeying them and causing strife, they need to be punished. They need to learn that they are not special or exempt from following rules, and their crap will not be tolerated. So, more power to the reporter!!

  2. No, I’m sorry. When a child is over-informing on another loudly and publicly for attention, that is behavior that should not be rewarded. It can be very shaming (even when the other kid is not doing anything wrong).

    Parents need to teach their kids the distinction of telling to help a friend (or protect themselves) versus telling to try to hurt/control the friend. Even young children are smart enough to learn this!

    I just took my daughter on a playdate with a mother who didn’t bother doing that for her child. It sucked for both myself and my daughter (who did nothing wrong), but the mother encouraged it. Because of this, a 5-year friendship that has existed between these girls since they were toddlers is about to collapse. This little girl has proceeded to continue this behavior while she and my daughter are in class (the teacher ignores it). I witnessed this several times even before my daughter complained. Understandably, my kid does *not* want to be friends with someone who makes her feel embarrassed all the time. She came home near tears recently asking why her friend called her a “best friend” after making her feel like crap at school. So while it is very important to be a good listener to a child and make him/her feel heard, it’s equally important to teach them not to be rude to their friends—or that poor child will end up friendless, because most kids are not receptive to a little bossy informant.

    1. Agreed. Dealing with this now and it is deiving me crazy. One boy likes to tattle about the most irrelevant things and then is showered with special treatment, and the others are always in trouble being forced to appologize when they have done nothing wrong.
      One of teachers uses the excuse and favours the tattler saying “they have to be kind ( I quote ) “because he has a learning problem”… Pardon? Lol. That has zero to do with enabling such irritating behaviour. He is 11 (not 3) and this is a daily issue now. It is NOT healthy to condone and encourage tattle tales, and it is driving me crazy.

  3. In middle school there was a kid that along with myself was bullied pretty often. We each took our own solution.
    Mine was to confront the bully in which case I gave him a right cross. This ended up with me and the bully to actually become friends while still retaining all the my friends that were also friends with this bully. I was included in everything they did because they knew I was a trustworthy fun person who if something went wrong would deal with the problem myself and not expect others to hold my hand.
    The others was to tattletale to Mommy. Once this happened the kid was cast out. He was no longer included in ANYTHING we did because should something have struck him wrong we were all in deep shit. He was no longer bullied but he was also no longer included.
    It is a good trait for an adult to have but not a child. If you cannot teach your kid to think for himself and allow him to get to this idea on his own will result in a very lonely childhood. Some of our adult rules really only work for adults you cannot nor will you ever change the nature of children. You’re old now and are attempting to press logic onto a mind that is not capable of it. All you have to do to raise a well rounded child is to teach him boundaries, not behavior.

    1. Allowing and encouraging children to think on their own will not be diffused by having them to report when things are too heavy to handle. You need to constantly coach them to achieve both.

  4. I love this article I have a 5 yr old that is very shy and now in his class there teaching the tattletale song and it bothers me because of the message there sending our kids. I have told him that I don’t want him singing this song at home. What should I do? He still sings it at school and he’s not those kids that tattletales but I’m afraid if he ever has to he wont.

    1. This is incredibly black and white thinking. As a victim of an over-indulged tattler as a kid (she continued this behavior through high school) I can attest that there is a difference between reporting and using adult intervention as a manipulation tool to control your friends’ behavior and when tattling is a problem with someone it almost always points to the latter. My daughter has also run into this with a girl in her 4th grade class who is incredibly insecure in her relationships with her peers and uses crying and tattling as a means to get her friends to include her in everything, not get her “out” in games they play, etc.. The school actually posted modified rules to a schoolyard game which changed the objective to “not getting people out” to further validate this girl’s manipulative behavior. There is a difference between telling when it’s a problem that requires adult intervention and tattling as a means to control. Even young children can learn the difference.

  5. This is an excellent article. It is about time that we do encourage tattling. Throughout grade school and high school I was bullied by the same group of kids, and more as my environment changed. Teachers looked down on tattling, as did parents of other kids, and my own mother. She was a hypocrite because every time a kid told on my for something, including trying to defend myself against a bully, I would be the one to get into trouble. But anytime I would tell on someone, the bullies’ parents would turn the other cheek/eye, as did my own mother. Another example that happened is a girl in my neighborhood broke my leg by running into me with her bike; I was on the grass. The other kids that we were all playing in clearly saw what happened but all of them flat out denied that they saw her do it, and it should have been obvious. Every kid that was a witness that day alienated me because they did not want to tattle on this wicked person. I have moved on, however, there is a significant amount of trust that was destroyed with these kids who did not serve as a proper witness as well as their parents for not taking the proper measures for the lying and the incident. This incident is probably why I do not fully believe in the Christian brand of forgiveness; forgive and and forget and all will be okay. That is a big load of garbage! On other things such as school and church, when peers refuse to tattle, it does destroy a lot of trust, because the victim feels that he can’t trust anyone, resulting in shutting a lot of people out.

    I strongly believe that when kids are at a young and impressionable age, they will tell the truth, but when something happens and they are told to not tattle, or to fib a little (in some cases. I think the young children are smart enough to know right from wrong when they see something. A lot of that does come from what their parents teach. So, when an adult teaches a child right from wrong and then does something wrong and lies about it, they are sending mixed messages to the child on lying. I have even asked what the difference was between when I do something wrong vs when someone else does something wrong. Why isn’t the other person being punished in the same way? So, I believe that when an adult starts lying and tries to justify it, or lies to protect someone, they can’t honestly expect their child to do the same. Or if the child still elects to be honest in spite of other people, I really feel that the child should be allowed to rat out the person who lies. Sure, it will embarrass the person, but if the problem is handled early on with consequences, there may be hope in a healthier society. Just like the girl who broke my leg. She never really apologized for it, she always teased me about how I walked because the fracture did not properly heal. She was so damn proud of herself. She never was brought to justice or paid restitution for it. So, my feeling is is that if I would see her, I would like to say something to her about the damage that she caused, plus, tell her husband and children the kind of person she was. That might sound harsh, but I think that it would serve as a wake-up call.

    I just want to make a comment about church community. I personally do not take a lot of stock in that because the churches that I used to go would constantly emphasize forgiveness. The message that they would convey along with it is to just forgive and try to get along. The Youth Ministers did a rotten job of working to try to get kids to really work and play together. What I saw was the Youth Minister always showing favortism towards the same kids. I felt that I was just chopped liver to this church, which is why I don’t go there anymore. There was no responsibility for actions, and I feel that this is missing in all churches, therefore resulting in more people not going to church or participating in activities.

    I really hope that more people get on board with tattling and giving the consequences immediately. That is where it needs to begin. For kids who bully, something really important should always be taken away, item or privilege, such as baseball, cheer leading, etc.

      1. Unbelievable, TATTLING IS TELLING!
        What do you classify as tattling?
        “Mom this kid stole my crayon.”
        That’s theft, I teach my child that stealing is not acceptable and I would like to be informed if my child needs advisement on how to handle that.
        NOT tattling.
        “This kid pushed me”
        Again, in the real world that’s battery.
        So again, NOT TATTLING.

        If a child is coming to an adult because they don’t yet know how to handle a situation that they know someone is doing something they shouldn’t be it’s NOT TATTLING!

        Tattling is a childish words, used by children who get caught and are given consequences that they didn’t like because someone caught them doing something they shouldn’t have and told.

        teach your kids TO SPEAK UP, TO TELL, TO ASK A GROWN UP FOR HELP IN A SITUATION THEY ARE NOT YET EQUIPPED TO HANDLE!

        Their thoughts are VALID.
        Their complaints are VALID.

        Adults telling children not to rattle sound like children themselves.

        That’s not how it works in the real world.

        If someone stole something from you, you would get validation, and the THEIF would get consequences.

        REAL LIFE.

        But now we’re teaching children that they are not aloud to call out other for doing wrong?

        CALL THEM OUT!

        I will never make my child feel that anything she wants to express to me or an adult is not valid and I for sure would never call her names like “tattletale” and dismiss her feelings.

        This is why society is the way it is.

        Mind your buisness
        Look the other way
        Don’t worry about anyone but yourself.
        Don’t say anything when someone is doing wrong

        ?????

        Exactly what’s wrong with the world.

        And if your all for tattling, I’d bet my bottom dollar your kid is told on a lot for misbehaved and your just upset that other kids call them on it and your EMBARRASSED that you’re not correcting it.

        We raise children to become responsible and accountable adults!

        Punishing them or yelling at them for “tattling” is WRONG.

  6. I loved the article. It was very well written and had excellent points. I have three children. We stress conflict resolution in my home. This includes active listening and how to respect others. My daughters have a “friend”who is very underhanded. This child will intentionally say something mean and hurtful over and over then speak really loud to humiliate the other kids when they have had enough and don’t want to play with her any longer ( walk away) These kids ( Mine as well as the neighborhood kids, sometimes as many as 14) will not play with her because of this. When this child is present, there is a lot of conflict. She will hit other kids, she will make faces and just be rude then turn around and “tattle” on the other kids like they have done something wrong. Please keep in mind that there are rarely issues of any kind as all the mothers are watchful.
    I welcome the real issues. I am a mother who is always watching and paying attention to language ,bullying, roughness and inappropriate behavior. I step in before situations come to a boil and like I stated above…am ready to make an issue a teachable moment.
    I am at a loss as to what to do with this little girl. I have tried to mediate. I have tried positive reinforcement. I have tried all I know to do. Other mothers in the neighborhood who witness this behavior wont let their children near this child because they see the behavior. Honestly, I am helping out a friend and come the end of August I wont be watching her any longer because of the stress she is causing with my children.
    I am putting this out here because first, I welcome helpful responses and ideas and second, some kids who tattle may be the trouble makers ( I say this because I am witnessing this first hand and sadly this child knows I am always watching) .

  7. Thanks for the article, I was looking for words to explain to my 12 year old that her reporting to the day camp supervisor that rule breaking dangerous play was going on – after telling the kids themselves to stop twice was not being a tattletale. She was not able to see that the kids who had to be removed from the play area were just angry at the messenger who reported them. It is an important message to teach our children

    1. That is not tattling. . . Tattling is specifically when someone is doing something that *you* don’t like but isn’t a) against the rules or b) hurting someone else. Tattling is meant to inform at the benefit of the informant.

      Example my 2.5yo son this morning tattled on his father who was trying to dress him. He said “Mom, dad is being mean over here” Um no he’s trying to get you dressed. I didn’t scold because he is too young to understand the difference. But there will come a day when my child will need to fight his own battles and also know when to engage an adult.

      1. So if someone is treating you with disrespect by calling you fat, ugly, and stupid while laughing at you, telling that person’s caretaker/guardian about that is “tattling” according to your conveniently narrow definition because you don’t like it, it’s not against the rules (freedom of speech), and it hurts no one else. Learn the real definition of tattling before you go lecturing others with your made-up definition, you child. Go on, tell someone I said this since according to your definition, it’s not “tattling.” Hahaha, I’m laughing so hard at you! XD

        1. Correction: it is tattling based on Terri’s laughably narrow definition, although it really shouldn’t be.

  8. Thank you for the Great article! I couldn’t agree more…my then 6 year old son has been pushed and cut infront of in line on numerous occasions at school,when he has “reported ” the problem the teacher asked the other boy and of course the other boy said no…..without further investigation she tells my son to go tell the tattling turtle ! So now at age 7 and in second grade he is inward doesnt interact with anyone and wont really speak during class so severe they act like he has a learning disability …I believe the humiliation of making a child stand in front for a stuff animal and “tattletale ” with all eyes on them is child abuse and all it does is Shuts the child up! Things like being cut infront of in line are real to a 6 year old and should be heard by an adult. So shame on any teacher that just wants all of their children to Shut Up !

    1. Amen to that. Teachers can be surprisingly ignorant and blind when it comes to handling such situations and dealing judgment with fairness. For example, one teacher I know scolded a kindergarten student in front of the whole class and made him stand in a “time-out” corner for 30 whole seconds during class for trying to help a fellow classmate with a question on the next letter in the alphabet to write for the class work while the teacher was rambling on. Someone should’ve “tattled” on the teacher, but it’s already too late for that. That student learned from that teacher never to speak during class unless called on, making him seem shy and quiet despite being anything but that. That teacher had ingrained in his young, impressionable mind that talking was bad and should be avoided, so he became a reclusive loner who shied away from his classmates during recess to wander on his own. It took many years for him to unlearn this false notion that talking is bad he had been taught by that teacher.

  9. My sister and I are in our fifties and we do not speak to each other anymore – our differences have widened over the years as each of us has developed ideals that are at variance with one another. I think I can illustrate our differences best by just one example:

    She believed in beating her children because, as she says, “God spanks me so I have to spank you.”
    I called CPS on my x for beating our kids.

    As children we were very, very different. She was number one and I was number two.

    She teased me mercilessly and enjoyed my rage. She made up a song about my rage at being bullied by her. And, when I socked her in the face one day she stood behind my mother and smiled at me as I was being beaten on my bare ass. How many times had I complained about her teasing to my mother? Hundreds. It did not matter. She was number one. I was number two. And, that was the way it was then and that is the way it is now.

    The last time we spoke, she told me she prayed for bad things to happen to me so that I would be forced to turn to god so that I could be “saved.”

  10. Thank you so much for this article. It articulates everything I’ve thought about “tattling”. I was considered a tattler by my immediate family and was always brushed off, told to stop, or punished. The things I was telling were not lies and they weren’t to get anyone in trouble. My brother beat me up a lot and sometimes very badly. Growing up with him obliterated by self-esteem as his older brother methods were considerably different and more harsh and mean-spirited than your run-of-the-mill older brother to younger sister. Many people tell me “Oh, brothers are always like that.” Not true. He constantly told me I was fat, ugly, unwanted, unloved, stupid, useless and he would hit me with all of his strength. This lasted until he was about 21 and I was 17 when his then-girlfriend told him to stop treating me so badly. I talk to his friends now and they admit his treatment of me was abhorrent and they would never treat their little sisters the way he treated me. They said they only didn’t intervene because of “guy code”.

    Not only that, I was abused as a child. No one in my family knows – only my husband. It was my father who touched me and watched pornography with me sitting right next to him. As I grew older, I was bullied in school – same things my brother said and boys physically shoving me, so only reiterating what I already believed. When I started working at 16, I was sexually assaulted by co-workers (grabbing my genitals and breasts while I was carrying things so I couldn’t react). These were generally grown men doing this, not that it makes a difference. When I told my bosses, they told me to stop acting like a slut (I was a virgin and had kissed 1 boy once). Fast forward to 19 and I was working at an office. After three years, I finally confessed to my direct supervisor that a much older man in another department would say things to me that made me uncomfortable (asking me to back up and turn around, calling me sexy, etc.). Guess who was punished and chastised?

    So, when it came to me being drugged and raped at 22, I internalized that. I never told anyone until I told my now-husband after a couple of years of silence. He, again, is also the only person other than my counselor who knows about my father. I’ve been stalked and when I told, the reaction was “you must be crazy” simply because the stalker is a regular church-goer. A man exposed himself to me in my place of business and when I told my boss/mother, she didn’t believe me. I still don’t think she believes me. It’s frustrating. I never wanted people to get into trouble for my own glee. I didn’t like hateful behavior and I didn’t like to be harmed or see others being harmed. And I’m tired of being treated as an object to sexually abuse and assault.

    I teach my son to always tell the truth. I teach him to tell me if something happens he doesn’t like or if he gets hurt or sees someone else getting hurt. My husband says that no one likes a tattle-tale, but he knows he’s not allowed to say that to our son anymore. As long as he’s not being malicious, it’s OK with me. In fact, I prefer him to tell me. I want him to always feel he can tell me anything. I never told anyone about what happened to me and I certainly don’t want that to be a possibility with my own child. It’s my duty as a mother to give him a safe place to go when something wrong happens.

  11. I remember as a child in kindergarten, overhearing a friend of mine telling lies about me in front of the other children to make me look bad. I told the teacher and was immediately called a “tattletale” and forced to apologize to the liar in front of the whole class as an example, even though I had never “tattled” on anyone before and I didn’t know what to do about this one. After all, she was my friend and she didn’t stop when I told her the truth. What else was I supposed to do? I went to the teacher, and the teacher punished me for it.

    I was so shocked and angry that I would be forced to apologize to someone who was obviously slandering me (I didn’t know the word at the time, but I knew what she was doing). So shocked and angry that in fact I later pinched the liar’s cheek until she cried and apologized to me.

    Of course, that would not have happened if the teacher had told me some alternatives or even asked the other child if she was lying, or did just about anything other than making an example out of me.

    After that, I never went to the teacher for anything for fear of being made an example of. The end result was I was bullied for years and developed some social anxiety. Great job, teacher…

    Hell, that reminds me of another teacher who, when asking if I wanted to read my dinosaur story to the class, forced me to. I told her I didn’t want to over and over and just started crying so much. And she was absolutely insistent that I HAD TO, and forced me to stand up and made me read it. It was an awful experience and I was only bullied more for it. Didn’t exactly help my public speaking persona, either. I realize now it was a control issue and I was realizing just how little of my life was in my own control, but she had some mistaken idea that forcing me would make me get better at it. It just made me worse.

    Anyway, I completely agree with you. I clammed up entirely because of what happened to me, and it took me years to get over the ripples that spread out from these events.

  12. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who sees the illogical “tattletale” thing.
    I remember a few years ago, this little kid that lived next door reported that one of his friends was shoplifting. Well, the poor fella got called a tattletale. He just wanted to keep his friend out of trouble, but he got labeled a tattle tale.
    We might as well start calling police informants “tattle tales.”

  13. I very much agree with this article, and the connection it makes between teaching children not to tattletale and the failure of adults to report extremely unethical behavior at every level of society.

    I think the difficulty most parents have is with tendency for kids to “tattletale” in a whiny voice, with the clear intent to try to get another child in trouble. Many adults tend to find this annoying, especially if the complaint appears to be trivial, an outright lie, or a clearly one-sided portrayal of a situation designed to reflect themselves in the best possible light. Even so, I don’t think it is EVER appropriate to say to a child “no one likes a tattletale.” If a child is using a whiny voice, lying, or misrepresenting the situation, then that needs to be dealt with separately. No child should ever be dissuaded from telling an adult about something they witnessed or something they are upset about. They may need to be taught “how” to tell – to be honest about the entire situation, for example – but the act of telling itself should always be encouraged and associated with courage and integrity – and certainly not associated with a loss of popularity. Surely the worst lesson we can teach our children is that being popular – and liked by everyone indiscriminately – is more important than making moral decisions, behaving ethically, or following their conscience.

  14. I hope I am not the only one who sees the distinction between tattling and reporting. I am extremely disappointed in people who would punish a child for telling them about a dangerous or wrong action done by another, but I am also disappointed in anyone who can’t see a difference between reporting and a child who is trying to get an adult to solve their problem for them rather than learning to interact with others and be proactive rather than reactive. Parenting is not black-and-white. Helping kids solve their problems sometimes includes talking to them and helping a kid see how to solve their own problem and NOT always stepping in when on their behalf every time they request it.

    1. Some problems can’t be solved by just being proactive. That’s trivializing problems that are not black-and-white. Often times, problems are not clearly differentiated between those that require parental help and those that can be solved on one’s own. For example, kids with eating problems such as bulemia could, in theory, solve their own problems by changing their habits, but parental guidance can help them through it.

  15. Great article!! The “tattling” that I don’t want to hear from my kids is when they are trying to get each other into trouble (he kicked the dirt!! She didn’t put away her socks!!) That is my (and I thought other people’s) definition of tattling. It’s hard to believe that a parent would *not* want to know if someone or something is getting hurt! If someone is in danger then it’s not considered tattling in my book.

  16. A friend of mine posted your article on facebook and I’m so glad she did. My husband and I have been discussing what to do about our “mandatory reporter”. When he was very little we taught him to come to us when there was a conflict he couldn’t resolve. As a result he never felt the need to hit, push, or act aggressively with other children. Now, at 4 years old he is the behavior monitor when he’s with his cousins and friends. I have several times been guilty of telling him he didn’t need to tattle. Thanks to all the points you made in this article, I see where I was wrong.
    Take care, and thanks again!

  17. This article hits the nail on the head. Not only have I never taught my own 8 kids that tattling is wrong, I’ve made sure to give equal credibility to both sides of every issue. If someone “talltes,” I get both parties together and get to the bottom of the issue. Also, I’ve never taught my children that they have to listen to and obey every adult. I’ve taught them it does NOT take a village to raise a child, it takes committed parents. When we give kids a voice, with no fear, they will be empowered against abuse.

    1. I’m a sophomore in highschool. I’m in a club at school called the Big Questions Club. A couple weeks ago, the big question was, “What would you do if you saw someone being assaulted or raped?” Half the members– mostly juniors and seniors– said that they would do NOTHING because “it’s none of my business”. They also said they would not tell a police officer or any person of authority– not even call 911– because that would be “snitching” and, “I don’t want that on my conscience.” They said that the bad person might endanger them or their family for having “snitched” on them (instead of, y’know, being taken to prison). I was appalled. I argued, is it worse to have “snitching” on your conscience than indirectly causing someone’s death? They responded with, “Yes, INDIRECTLY.” People in my generation are so unbelievably selfish! They admitted it, too, saying it was human nature. I cried afterwards.
      This article explains why.

      This article really resonates for me. I used to be a tattletale as a kid, but when I discovered I would get in trouble for it, I stopped cold. I would not do anything that would get ME in trouble. I understand that I must have annoyed my mother by reporting on petty things, but she didn’t tell me off for it the way teachers did. For years after I would be afraid of telling teachers about anything, feeling as though I couldn’t trust them. That’s not a healthy school environment. I’m glad I can trust my teachers now. In the club, the only people who were advocating on my side of the argument were the supervisors. I’m pretty sure that more people were on my side, but they didn’t speak up because they had never thought about it before. I think this article explains why my classmates are afraid of “snitching”, or asking an authority for help in a dangerous situation. They are also selfish enough that they wouldn’t mind causing someone harm by not doing anything. You can actually go to prison for that– guilt by association. Our society needs to learn to speak up.

      1. I am sorry to hear that so many people in that club had the views that they would keep quiet if they were a witness to an assault or rape. I guess the only question I would ask any of them is if they would want a witness to come forward on their behalf if they themselves were the ones being assaulted and raped.

  18. Your story really resonates with me, because when I would “tattle” to her about my younger sibling’s bad behavior or those of the neighbor kids, she would always tell me exactly, “No one likes a tattletale.” And now, from reading your post, I do realize it’s made a big impression on me in my life, and how I handle myself.

    I would just like to add one point of observation I had as a child and would get the “No one likes a tattletale” line: it was always given when my Mother was busy. For instance, when my brother and I, or the neighborhood kids, were already up and playing at an early hour in the morning, while my parents were still in bed. Or if my Mom was entertaining company (and usually I was playing with the other children of her company), or if it was late in the evening, and she was sitting down and watching TV. Her lack of desire to intervene correlated directly to being in a state where she was tired, or busy, and didn’t want to be called on to DO SOMETHING. “Tattling” put a burden on her to have to do something about a problem during a time when she didn’t want to, so “no one likes a tattletale” was a way of passing the buck, or deflecting the problem, when she wasn’t in the mood to deal with it herself.

    You still see that in our dealings as adults. “Tattling” to your manager or boss, for example, puts a burden on them to “DO SOMETHING” about a problem, and if they don’t want to be bothered or don’t want to face up to the problem, then they want to shift the blame to the messenger. Which I find loathsome.

    Thank you for your post. I hope that many people read it and come to agree with you. Transparency, truth and asking someone more powerful than you for help with a problem are all valuable qualities that we should encourage in our children and in our daily lives, not subvert.

  19. Thank you so much for this article, I completely agree with this. My husband and I tell our children all the time that we keep no secrets so when they are telling us that something is going on we have to act on it and let them know we will listen. We are parents, that is our job.

  20. I periodically remind my kids that there’s a difference between “tattling” in order to get someone into trouble and asking for help, either for themselves or for another person. It’s always OK to ask for help, and if you aren’t sure, ask (report it) anyway. I do think children need to be taught not to be gossips, and getting someone into trouble just because you are annoyed with them is a no-no. I deal with petty tattling by saying “It doesn’t matter who did it/started it, what matters is that we all help it not to happen again.” (We use nonpunitive discipline ie focusing on solutions rather than retribution – and yes that can include “tough” solutions!) However, I totally agree that children need to be encouraged to report anything they feel uncomfortable about.

    1. Emma has the best answer to this problem and we really must let kids learn to sort things out for themselves at the right developmental age/stage. If a child is hurt physically, teachers and parents MUST act – it the basic foundation of parenting and teaching – keep them safe from harm. If a child is hurt emotionally or is annoyed, pestered, teased, it’s our job to help him learn to handle it. With children who do not speak well, give them the words or offer to say the words for him – STOP, NO, LEAVE ME ALONE! With kids who are fluent, send them back into the fray to use words or other techniques (ignoring, distracting, playing with someone else). Teachers – use the aggression or the ugliness as a class project. (Today on the playground Thomas got sand thrown in his eyes. What can we do about that?) Telling an adult is right, but the adult needs to use the telling to teach.

  21. I am forwarding this article to my son’s teacher. He was told that he was “tattletaling like a kindergartener” when he reported that another kid was picking on him, including kicking and punching. He did not tell me, but in fact told his older sister because he is afraid to tell any adult anything now. That bi*** is going down – I am beyond furious.

  22. What do you do when you as a adult tell on a child for wrong doing when you are in charge of the child and the parent calls me a snitch to my daughter behind my back, and then calls the son and ask him if he lied to me and didn’t do what I asked him to do. And when he says yes he lied the Mom tells him to just make something up and say he misunderstood me.

  23. What a very commonsensical article. And so very topical here in Ireland following so many reports into the abuse, both physical and sexual, of children by the Church and State. There is still resistance from some quarters into mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. We thought we had the Church onside on the issue but with the recent publication of the Cloyne Report we find there are still reprobates in the Church willing to shelter abusers and hide the abuses. There is even speculation that legislation will be enacted requiring all reports of abuse to be reported – even if these happen in the confession box.

    The Roman Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, is resisting this. Brady is the guy who forced children, who had been raped by Fr. Brendan Smyth, to take Oaths of Secrecy in 1975. Here is the Oath he forced these children to take:

    “” I will never directly or indirectly, by means of a nod, or of a word, by writing, or in any other way, and under whatever type of pretext, even for the most urgent and most serious cause (even) for the purpose of a greater good, commit anything against this fidelity to the secret, unless a dispensation has been expressly given to me by the Supreme Pontiff. “””

    The result of this oath was that Fr. Brendan Smyth was allowed to continue his rapacious reign for two more decades – aided without any doubt whatsoever by Cardinal Brady!

    Thank you again for this article.

  24. Great article, and spot on!
    IMO, the one thing the article didn’t address is when “mandatory reporting” comes with a selfish side goal. The mentality of “If I tell on you, I’ll get ____” The best way to deal with the risk of selfish “mandatory reporting” is to tailor the punishment to not overly benefit the person giving the report.
    Don’t punish the messenger, but don’t overly reward the messenger either.
    Taking that concept another step, there are kids that use “reporting” as an attack on other kids, not a defense. They’re bullies, but usually not big enough to do the bullying themselves. An uncaring/unattentive adult quickly becomes nothing more than the bully’s hired goon
    The bullies usually aren’t noticeable right away. Adults need to pay attention. If you’re paying attention to how the kid acts when giving the “mandatory report”, and especially when you are acting on the information he/she gives you, an anti-bully adult can identify the bully within 2-3 “reports”
    The way you fight against the bully is to make it very clear to them that you know what they are. When a bully tells you about someone’s misdeeds, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Get the whole picture from the messenger and from the accused. Sometimes, the messenger is actually the guilty one.
    If the accused is the guilty one, work on making sure the punishment against those they report on does not benefit the bully at all. I also work with the bully’s target to help avoid being a victim of the bully again by suggesting methods similar to the corporate “Cover Your Butt” mentality
    If you can do all of this in a way that is clear to the bully (they’ll be paying attention very closely), they’ll catch on, and will likely lessen or even stop being bullies altogether

  25. Joelle,
    You are spot on here. Thank you for this timely post and wisdom. I found your blog through SNAP. I have come to know some SNAP leaders through conversations about my story of trying to warn now for about 9 months about a predator pedophile music minister. This man was my youth music minister at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas in the mid 80s. He became a close family friend, even living with my family for a while. I was on the church staff as a youth intern as a college student in 1989 when this minister was fired abrubtly due to credible accusations of sexual abuse by several boys in the church. He was confronted by church staff, including the head pastor at the time, who is still the head pastor today. This offender admitted to the abuse. The church did not report his crimes to the police, just fired him and told him to leave. He packed up that week and moved back to his home state of MS where he is on staff now as music minister of all ages at a church in Clinton, outside of Jackson. He also teaches choir at the local public high school. I have spoken with the school superintendent, head pastor, as well as local law enforcement. Both the school and church have confronted this man, and he admits to the abuse that occurred in Dallas, as well as to abusing a boy in MS that he babysat prior to his job in Dallas. I know that local law enforcement is very concerned and has advised that this minister be fired, yet he remains on staff. The MS pastor and elders told me that they are concerned with protecting this minister’s reputation, as “everyone in the [town] knows [him.] and that “he has the largest church youth choir in the state.” I have even been contacted by this man’s attorney who is a church elder and has heard accounts of the abuse from victims and admission by his client. The attorney asked if I would speak with him to “discuss a resolution.” I said no. The MS pastor has told me that they “feel my pain.” I expressed to them that I am not a victim, but I am doing this as a victims’ advocate to protect children. I have also contacted Prestonwood Baptist to plead that they do the right thing and report these crimes against children that occurred on their watch. Silence has been the response. Recently Christa Brown who founded Stop Baptist Predators posted my story on her blog http://stopbaptistpredators.blogspot.com/2011/04/complicity-in-baptistland.html. Thank you again Joelle and God bless you.

  26. Time to stop knowing and not saying when a child is being harmed. It takes courage to keep standing up for a child. Even if people react on reported abuse and help, there is always seemingly someone in the picture who does not quite get how important it is to be vigilant. The taboo involved with sexual abuse forms a barrier so strong that adults who have been trianed to report, and are required by LAW to report, still resist seeing a problem for what it is, and decline to get involved, and decline to report. If it is a school person, that is against the law.

    Fortunatley, the education of adults in matters of abuse has increased, and awareness has risen greatly.

    Unfortunately, criminals are flourishing because of the easy access to information, and are exploiting technology for their illegal gain. This will never end, but the approach to warding off the effects of crime can change. It is called involvement. As people are more and more insular, and consumed in “self centered” energy, everyone around them is harmed.

    Don’t forget, there is big money in drugs and exploitation of people, and it may be worse now than ever before. Children are the victims when they live in a world saturated with crime. Thinking because your family is ok, and safe and warm, is not enough anymore. The drugs their school buddy’s parent takes or sells has an effect on the quality of life on your child. And for tolerating “inappropriate beahvior”, we all pay a price. When one abuse is present, other forms of it are there as well. All are harmful to people.

  27. Excellent article. Very, very importantly, children need to know that it is OK to let an adult know when another person is being harmed, and no one is going to punish them. Not easy for any child to do when the adults around them are secretive. Kids see when adults do nothing, and then learn to do nothing because it was behavior modeled in front of them.

    In school teachers may say to students, “let me know, it is not tattling to tell me of something if a person is being harmed. Verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse is how a person, a child, a baby, a friend, a mom, a dad, an old person, all can be hurt by different forms of abuse, and when one abuse is happening, another form of the abuse is right there happening at the same time. They are not always seperate. They are all hurtful. Sexual abuse is all of them together, and hurts people for a long time.”

    Tattling is a very confusing issue for kids. They don’t want to see the harm being done, they don’t always know what to do. Secrets are also confusing to cildren. They need to be taught there is a good secret, like what you get for your birthday, and a bad secret, like someone is hurting you an you do not tell, because you are afraid, and someone hurting you has said they will hurt someone specific if you tell. You are not afraid of birthday presents, you should be afraid if someone has hurt you.

    All of this boils down to communication. Sexual abuse will flourish if this culture of invisible children is not brought to light. Thanks for a good article.

  28. Thank you for this wonderfully practical message. I also facilitate prevention education sessions with parents and people who work with children in churches and I look forward to opportunities to share this.
    Your use of the term “mandated reporter” is genius. Thanks for the encouragement to speak up. Adults as well as children are often made to feel they are the problem in reporting wrongdoing.

  29. This is my very favorite article ever.

    I hate secrets, they kill people.

    This article brings to mind so many thoughts, like the time my now adult cousin finally told her mom that she had been raped by a janitor at their store, only to hear these words come from her own mom’s mouth: “For gosh sakes don’t tell anyone”.. Those words did more harm to my cousin than the actual rape.
    ..And the times when I was growing up, the oldest of 11 kids. There were so many times that I spoke up because something happened that did not feel right to me, but yet I got slapped in the mouth every time. Being the oldest, I must have worried and tried to be the “mandatory reporter” but I was taught that was not a good thing.
    ..And then there was the time, when a nine year little old boy had been violently raped by 2 religious brothers and then that boy told only his best friend about it. Oh his best friend kept his secret for years even until he died in an accident. That nine year old boy, who was now in his 40’s had been hitting bottom for so long with drugs and alcohol, that he decided one night that he was going to kill his parents, and blow up the catholic church. If only that friend, (the messenger) had been taught to tattle, he might have spared this victim and his parents so much pain.
    ..But most of all, thousands and thousands of kids who were sexually abused by the parish priest, at which the priest would tell that kid to ‘not tell anyone’. If only kids had been taught that tattling was not a bad thing… That alone might have spared so many more kids from being harmed.

    Yes, I have learned, and yes I am a tattletale, and yes, I am proud of it.
    To those who still feel it is not their place to tell or to report harmful behavior to someone who can help, please get some guts and stop being afraid, You just might save an innocent life.

    Judy Jones,
    The “mandatory reporter” who speaks up when someone is being harmed or even when I suspect that someone is being harmed. I will not keep my mouth shut anymore, because I might be called inappropriate ?

  30. YOU ARE MY HERO! I was participating in a parenting forum and a mother asked if she should allow her 18 month old who was taking toys and hitting another 18 month old to “just work it out.” Are you kidding me?

    This should be required reading for every parent and every teacher!

  31. Very timely article as we watch 2 really big sexual abuse stories playing out in the news.
    The ” maid” who “told” on the world famous french figure that he assaulted her.
    She has become the example of what happens to women who tell.
    they are attacked by the defense attorneys and our legal justice system that gives all the rights to the alleged abuser yet allows that alleged abuser and his or her team the right to try to blame the accuser try to trash her or him in front of the world etc.

    Another story of tattletales are the women who came forward during Arnold Schwartznegier’s election campaign and said that he was a molestor.. look what happened there.. His wife minimized and tried to negate these very activities that most likely are responsible for the birth of his son by his “maid”.. makes one wonder if she also was a victim of his molest/assaults and because of her situation stayed silent and or told and was bought off by arnold and or his wife or both to keep silent.

    the world stage right now is playing out these types of things because we have to deal with it.

    you are right.. training our children to do right is a key
    the other would be untraining the adults to do wrong.
    unfortuantley catholic brainwashing is one of the roots of all this insanity and dysfunction.

  32. Joelle, I am stunned. I couldn’t appreciate more or embellesh what you have written. What you have written says it all. Exposing bad behavior to cut it off in the bud is what it is all about. Thank you. I’m copying this and putting it in my memory file.

    1. The last comment regarding this article was posted May 2011..we need to do more to get the word out. We need a movement across this country. We need to do something to protect our children and give them the tools they need to help themselves. We need to be less defensive about the playground tattletales…we need to LISTEN..to our children. Talk about this to ever family you know. Send it to everyone in you address book. Look what happened at Penn State University. It’s happening everyday somewhere.

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