Many parents fear the teenage years because of the thought that their teenage will pull away and stop talking to them — telling them things. However, those same parents spend a few years trying to get their kids to stop telling them everything. Sometime in the early elementary years a switch comes on in a child’s head that says, “Tell them everything, they need to know it all!” And they do tell you everything — right down to, “She looked at me funny.”
The gut reaction of a lot of parents is to say, “stop tattling,” when their child frequently tells on silly stuff their friends or siblings do. I don’t really care to use that phrase because I always felt like by discouraging them from telling you stuff, by simply using that phrase, a child would feel like they weren’t supposed to tell when something important came up.
Recently there was a minor situation where Josiah was honest about something and one of his grandparents told him he shouldn’t tattle because his friends might not like it. In this case, one of the kids had finished eating their dinner, but Josiah chimed in and said that he saw him dump part of his food on someone else’s plate. The entire situation wasn’t a big deal, but I didn’t feel like it was appropriate for his grandparent to tell him he shouldn’t “tattle” for fear of what his friends would think.
It wasn’t until yesterday that the significance of all of this hit me. Josiah asked me if he could have some popcorn. I told him no that it was his dad’s popcorn and he’d just eaten. Josiah said, “Well we don’t have to tell Dad.” When I told him that’d be lying, he was confused.
“It wouldn’t be lying,” Josiah said. “It’d just be not telling.”
Ah. There it is. That fine line between teaching our kids that not telling is lying, but that telling too much is tattling. It’s not enough to say, “hey, no tattling.” They need to understand the difference between just giving us a play-by-play and being honest. Honesty is not always about just speaking up when asked, it’s about being willing to speak up when others won’t.
In my opinion, it was definitely appropriate for Josiah to speak up when the other child was allegedly less than honest about eating his dinner (we never really figured it out one way or the other). If the child didn’t eat his dinner, when snack time came he’d get to eat snack with all the other kids even though he didn’t eat. Dishonesty should not be hidden. Josiah shouldn’t be made to feel like honesty isn’t wanted. No kid should be made to feel that way.
There’s a better way to go about it. We need to teach our kids when it’s appropriate to come to us and when it is not. Children need to learn that there are some things that they need to work out for themselves and some things that they need to bring to an adult. You could have a set discussion about what types of things are appropriate to bring to an adult and things that are not. Or you can teach discernment on a case-by-case basis. Each time your child comes to you with something you can let them know that those types of things are the things you don’t need to hear about or that you do need to hear about. The Urban Dictionary says the definition of a tattle tail is someone who tells about something that doesn’t affect them at all. You could start there. Of course, there are things that don’t always directly affect someone, but affect them indirectly. We probably shouldn’t trust 5 year olds to have that type of insight.
I want Josiah to tell me when his brother is lying to me or doing something dangerous. I don’t want him to feel like he shouldn’t tell or his brother will be upset with him. At the same time I don’t want him running to me just because his brother is making a mess in his own room. It may be slightly frustrating for a while teaching discernment, but that’s what parenting is all about. It’s our responsibility to teach our kids right from wrong. We shouldn’t just take the easy road and say, “No tattling.” We should teach them about the lost art of honesty.