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February 28, 2011 - Jodelle Greiner
Why do we send our kids mixed messages?

Even kids as young as pre-school have heard “Don’t tattle.” We tell kids they shouldn’t be “tattletales” when they report to mom or dad that older brother or sister did something. Kids get teased if they go to a teacher and tell that their classmates are getting into something. We ingrain that in their little heads very early.

Then we turn around when the kids are older and tell them, “If a friend of yours does something, tell your parents or school counselor or some other adult you can trust.”


No wonder kids are afraid to confide in anyone if they find out something.

A friend swears them to secrecy and tells them something that they’ve been doing — doesn’t matter what it is — the poor kid who’s been sworn to secrecy is now in a quandary over whether to tell or not.

“If I tell, my friend will hate me and tell everyone I broke my promise; I’ll never live it down. On the other hand, if she gets hurt doing what she’s doing, and people find out I knew, I’ll get in so much trouble, and if she gets hurt, I’ll feel bad I didn’t tell someone!”

(Also, abusers use this against kids when they swear them to secrecy and pressure them to not tell anyone what they’re doing to the child, even using threats of harm to the child or their loved ones.)

Kids should be able to go to an adult and tell them what’s happening and then the adult — not the child — should decide if this is serious enough to warrant intervention. That way the kid also learns judgment and how to make good decisions.

Kids don’t have the life experience or reasoning skills that adults do, yet we expect them to judge situations infallibly and when they’re wrong, we criticize them for the Solomonic decision they had to make. Children should never be expected to make decisions that should be made by adults.

Reporting things to parents and other responsible adults is part of the process of growing up and we should never criticize our kids for trusting us enough to tell us something they think is important. If we reinforce that trust when they are young, maybe they will continue to trust us when they’re older and dealing with more serious issues.


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