Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Tattletale Taboo

How do you explain the tattletale taboo in terms that a 5 year old can understand?

The Boy asked me recently why he shouldn’t tell us or his teacher when his friends are doing something bad. I tried to distinguish between ‘really’ bad (hurting someone) and ‘kinda’ bad (making faces), but he didn’t get it and I didn’t want to undermine any hope of ever enforcing any rules ever again.

Tattling is in the eye of the beholder. Yesterday, while I was at work, The Wife took TB and The Girl to a nearby lake, along with another Mom and some friends of TB’s. TB spat some lake water at his friend, who complained to her mother and TW. TW was glad that the friend complained, so she could reprimand TB. The friend’s mother reprimanded the friend for tattling. But if she hadn’t tattled, TB would have gotten away with unacceptable behavior. What the friend’s Mom took as tattling, we took as useful reportage.

The funny thing about the tattletale taboo is that it gets harder to explain, the more you look at it. It isn’t just about group loyalty, since the taboo applies even in very transient, anonymous groups. It isn’t just about friend loyalty, since I know I’ve withheld saying anything when witnessing total strangers do things they shouldn’t.

I don’t want TB (or TG, when she gets old enough) to be a whiner, incapable of handling the normal stresses of everyday life. But I don’t want him to tolerate truly awful stuff, either, since if you do that long enough, you start to think it’s because you deserve it. How do you teach “deal with it” and “don’t stand for it!” at the same time?