Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tattle Tale

We're on the brink of one of those life lessons that I'm not exactly sure how to handle with our first grader, ES. How do you explain what it means to be a "tattle tale"? When should you and when should you not tell on your... brother... friend... classmate... anyone else? It's a very fine line and not easily defined.

What brought on all this philosophical discussion? Today ES got an Atta-Boy award from his teacher for telling on someone at school. What egregious criminal offense was his nefarious classmate committing that warranted reporting him to the teacher, you ask?

He was making a paper airplane in the boys' restroom.

I must have missed it, because I'm not exactly sure when making paper airplanes became illegal. Maybe I was on deployment when that proclamation came out. I certainly would have commended ES for telling on someone for smokin' or hazin' or vandalizin' in the boys' room... but making a paper airplane??? In my mind, he crossed that imaginary and poorly defined boundary between alerting the authorities of an unsafe condition and being a "tattle tale."

However (comma) I don't think he's mature enough yet to judge what's worthy of reporting to the authorities and what's not, so he may as well err conservatively, right? I don't want to discourage ES from reporting things that he thinks are wrong, unless of course he starts to make it a habit and does it just for the sake of getting attention from his teacher.

That raises another question though. Besides how to explain what a "tattle tale" is, at what age is a child old enough to understand the concept and be able to tell the difference between that and doing the right thing?

I also don't know all the circumstances. Certainly the other boy shouldn't have been making paper airplanes in the restroom if he should have been in class just at that moment, but if it was recess, then who cares? I tried getting this answer out of ES at dinner, but his answer wasn't clear to me. It had something to do with the other kid being in a different class and there are staggered recesses and it might have been that boy's recess time, but he didn't know. So I don't want ES to think it's necessarily okay to make paper airplanes in the restroom, either.

I suspect I'm over-analyzing and over-reacting to this, too. I have had an aversion to tattle tales since at least the 7th grade. That's when my little sister told on me for supposedly not doing the chore I was supposed to be doing and I got a walloping of a spanking for it. From her perspective, she was just having fun and liked telling on me to get me in trouble. It established a very deep-rooted distrust of her in my mind and we have never been close as a result.

So what say you, dear peanut gallery??? To tell? Or not to tell?


blunoz said...

LW just brought up another good point. Why is it ES will tell on a classmate making a paper airplane in the restroom, but he won't tell us when his younger brother is doing something wrong? Usually when YB is doing something wrong, the result is ES yelling at him or hitting him. What's going on there???

E.P. said...

hmmmm you must be in some sort of comment counting contest. The first comment on your own post is your own!

Seriously though. I don't know the right tactic here. I don't think they can tell the difference between serious and not serious at that age. He probably erred on the right side. Just call him "Snitchly"

Ruth Burkett said...

Reminds me of Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development. It's difficult to even have a discussion with elementary kids about the "gray" areas between right and wrong. It has been my experience that until we reach 12 or even later (and some never get there) our acts are either right or wrong, turn the fool in or ignore it.

I would want a child to report egregious infractions, but how do we, even as adults, know when it crosses the line into a reportable offense? If the theft you are reporting in NYC is less than $1000, the cops don't even take a report on it. Here in small town mid-America, a bunch of CD's stolen from a car makes the paper. So, is it social context, moral uprighteousness, or both that help us make these decisions? (And now my brain hurts...)

E.P. said...

so my "snitchly" comment has been successfully trumped by Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development!

Sagey said...

I emailed ES's teacher to find out if there was more to this story than just "they were making paper airplanes". She replied with:

ES reported a problem in the restroom to Mrs. M. who said he was in order for an Atta Boy Award because these particular boys have been causing problems in the restroom. The children were making paper airplanes and playing in the restroom, which is against school rules. Since ES reported the problem right away, the teacher was able to catch the boys in the act. I know we try not to promote tattling, but ES reported this problem to Mrs. M. in a very polite and respectful manner. I assure you that ES does not have a reputation as a tattle-tale. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Since Mrs. M knows that he is usually quiet around adults he does not know, she realized that there probably was a genuine problem that should be checked out.

So yes, ES deserves that Atta Boy for recognizing a problem and telling the correct person about the problem. Tell your son he did a good job! ;-)

pdxboxer said...

This is easy... does the infraction he's witnessing have the potential to harm anyone -- the person committing the crime or those nearest them? If so, then he should say something. If no physical or emotional harm will be done, skip the tattle. It's not his place and it risks a reputation which may make it tough to make and keep friends.

As for ES watching YS -- he needs to speak up when YS is knowingly breaking house rules, plain and simple. To not do so should be as serious an offense as the original broken rule.

Paper airplanes aren't allowed to be constructed in the bathroom? I had a science teacher who encouraged us to make the best paper airplanes we could and used it to explain aerodynamics and principles of flight.

I think teachers should be handing out awards for students reporting when they see weapons or bullying, not arts & crafts.