I was at the playground the other day and heard a child telling another that they were a tattletale. This is one of those negative labels that adults pass on to children without thinking about the consequences. And I feel it’s one of the most harmful lessons we can teach our children.
We wouldn’t encourage our children to use the words stupid or jerk (or much worse terms), so why do we teach them that it’s okay to use words like tattletale and liar? I think it’s because we feel they are descriptive of actual flaws that we want to discourage~ mainly putting your nose in other people’s business and lying. But let’s forget the fact that adults shouldn’t be teaching children negative labels and names to call one another. There is something so much more insidious about the word tattletale.
It implies that you should only be concerned about things that affect you directly, everything else is another person’s business and you should stay out of it. The other message is that you should’t tell on other people. Essentially it’s okay to hide information.
“It’s not my business” is a giant flaw in our society as a whole. Children, women and animals are mistreated and continue to be mistreated because people turn a blind eye. Society often chooses to be blind to pollution issues, addictions, metal illnesses, abuse, racism, gender equality, and this list goes on and on and on. I am trying to teach my child to be observant, and active, and involved. We all need to be breaking out of this harmful practice of isolation. Technology increasingly enables us to live a solitary existence under the mistaken belief that “internet connections” are the same as physical connection. I don’t want to raise a child that lives online and needn’t be concerned about or get involved with her immediate neighbours and community. We live in an amazing community simply because people are involved and care.
More importantly I want my child to communicate with me. I want her to always feel she can share anything with me. If someone is doing “something wrong” I WANT to know, because that “something” could be inappropriate touching or worse. I’m trying to keep an open dialogue so that they will come to me, even if they are unsure if what is happening is bad or their fault. And I especially don’t need teachers (and yes, I’ve definitely heard teachers telling students not to be tattletales) working against my efforts. Teachers are often an adult that children will approach if they need to talk about abuse. Pushing kids away cuts off that line of communication. And we need to keep all lines open!
I understand the concept that is trying to be imparted~ you do not need to tell on someone every time they do something that is outside the rules. Not everything needs to be reported. We don’t want a “Big Brother” society; however, children have a hard time defining the nuances that this lesson implies. That comes with maturity and so we all need to be very careful when we throw around these seemingly simple labels and lessons.
If you give a child a rule and they report someone breaking that rule then why are we getting so frustrated? The issue really is that adults don’t want to spend the time communicating properly with children. We don’t want to enforce every rule, we don’t want to explain why it is okay that “Jimmy is doing X”, and we would rather put the blame on the child and basically tell them to shut up.
It is a lazy way out of what could be a more meaningful conversation. When you say to a child “don’t be a tattletale!” you are essentially telling them that you don’t want to hear what they have to say. Don’t talk to me because I’m not listening. Don’t tell me what that person is doing because it’s not your business. The rules don’t apply to everyone equally. You are wrong.
None of the lessons behind the word tattletale are lessons I want my child to learn.