Photograph by Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RM
No one likes a tattletale, least of all the English language. Any and all synonyms for the title conjure up nasty images; snitch, whistle-blower, narc, sneak, squealer all make you want to twist your face as if you’ve smelled something rotten.
So who would willingly attach themselves to such a negative moniker? I guess I’m one of those fools.
Tattle telling is as ingrained in toddlers as temper tantrums. They are just wired to rat. Or at least my kids were.
Playing the role of disciplined parent, I would chastise any child who tattled on another, often making the act of tattling seem far worse than whatever offense he or she was chirping about.
Tamp down the tattling urge at a young age and turn out children who learned how to play well in the sandbox was my thinking. But deep down I was grateful for the heads up.
“Mommy, I saw Mabel kiss the neighbor boy down the street,” my son would sing out in his well-rehearsed tattletale tune.
“Tsk, tsk, Jimbo,” I’d chide outwardly, but inwardly I’d relish the information. Note to self, I’d think, my five-year-old daughter needs a short leash as she grows and matures.
But there’s a fine line between informant and obnoxious, and often that line was blurred in our household and, in turn, at school. Many times the tattling was more than justified, like the myriad of instances when Jimbo was picked on and bullied for his religion by fellow classmates. Other times, he probably could have toned it down some. I’d hardly say he was being wronged just because Johnny swiped a second slice of pizza from the cafeteria line.
The problem is that once you are labeled, even if you reform and change your ways, it’s hard to break free from being known as a snitch. So sometimes a snitch, in an effort to distance himself from the image, goes to the other extreme and quits talking. From a rat to a clam before your very eyes. And suddenly you know nothing. Not how many pizza slices Johnny stole or if Belinda cheated on the French test or who was caught drinking at George’s house. Parents of teenagers are relegated to Need-to-Know status with most teenagers deciding we rarely need to know.
So we turn to other sources—social media, intuition, other parents—to get to the bottom of things, and that’s when our childhood tendencies to tattle creep back in. Only this time it’s not called tattling. It’s called protecting.
We read texts and we see photos and we overhear or inadvertently discover things, stupid teenage things, dumb teenage decision things, and then what? What do we do with that information? If it just involves your child, it’s up to you what you do with it.
But what if there are others involved? Do we tattle to the other parents? Is that tattling or does that fall under “It Takes a Village”?
Recently, I was faced with this quandary. A handful of teenagers, a couple of bad decisions that took place under my roof, a scolding, a grounding (my kid), and then a goodbye to the teenagers. Mum’s the word, I decided. No need to tattle to the other parents since my kid decided to take the blame for everyone.
But when I broached this topic with some mothers, they felt I was wrong for not reaching out to the other parents. Their contention: You’d want to know if your kid did something stupid; why wouldn’t these other parents want to know when their kid made a bad decision?
I heard the truth in their words, and when I bumped into one of the offending kid’s mothers, I blurted it out. As the words tumbled out of my mouth, and the truth hung stale in the air, and the mother threatened retribution and “ass-kicking.”
I shrunk and began questioning my decision. Why, oh, why hadn’t I just left well enough alone? And then I recalled what another mother had told me, and I found a bit of solace.
She said, “Amy, if my kid is ever involved in something, please, please tell me. I want to know. Because we all have to look out for each other and be the eyes and ears for each other and let our children know that we are all watching and that the truth always comes out sooner or later.”
Have I reverted back to my childhood tattling or am I just a concerned parent or is it a little of both? I’m conflicted about that.
Some days, I’d like to just stick my fingers in my ears, close my eyes tightly and sing out, “La, la, la, I can’t hear anything!” so I wouldn’t have to be faced with that dilemma. Nothing to snitch about if you are ignorant.
But then I hear my friend’s words and realize that I don’t get to just drop out because it’s the easier path. That I’m a member of a village—sometimes the town crier, yes, and a fool all too often, but, hopefully, never the village idiot.