I’m Telling…

One of the first lessons children are taught is the distinction between right and wrong.  It takes a while.  It begins with the word “NO”.  As the child learns, the word no encompasses what he/she is not permitted to do.  Those parameters are set by the parents.  That realization broadens to that which others should not do.  Different teachers – different parameters.  Once this concept begins to take shape, the child enters the world of ‘Tattletale’.

“Kids tattle because they’ve developed a strong sense of right and wrong and they start policing other people,” says Walfish. Tattletales suffer from an overdose of conscience.

The most prominent reason is a developmental stage called “rule-governed behavior.” Somewhere around 5, kids begin to understand there are rules to be followed – but they don’t have the capacity to distinguish between major and minor rule-breaking. The result is that every broken rule is brought to an adult’s attention.

“Kids who tattle get labeled – tattletale, squealer, snitch – and left out,” says Thompson. Bringing infractions to an adult’s attention sets your kid up for friendship failure. (Yearian & Smith, 2020)

In fact, many professionals view tattling as a means for a child to gain attention.  It is discouraged by many.  As we age, the urge to tattle is suppressed predominantly out of concern for ourselves.  It is not considered an acceptable behavior. 

When children grow into adulthood, the term tattletale is rarely applied.  The term “snitch” which has been used to describe this action which by definition implies theft as in to snatch or steal something.  In the movies, mobsters refer to someone who informs on another as a “rat.”  In the corporate world, those who report the wrongdoing of others can even be referred to as “spy” or a “whistleblower”.  All carry with them very negative connotations.  But are they?

There are a plethora of ways information comes to a person.  One way is that something will come up very innocently during a conversation about a completely unrelated topic, or because someone finds him/herself observing something.  You overhear something; you connect one piece of information to another, or the ever popular, “Don’t tell anyone … but”

When you know that something is wrong, the knowledge of it happening becomes a burden.  Depending upon the individual, that burden may be more than they can bear.  They chose to confide in someone; one person who will listen to them, to share the burden of knowing.  The person will then feel that the burden is lifted, much in the same manner as a relief valve.  But the pressure is transferred.  The first person has been relieved, but the second person now carries the weight of this knowledge.  When you take this information and hand it off from person to person, it amounts to no more than venting.  The proper way – and the way employees are encouraged to deliver such information is through the chain of command; report up. 

Having found myself in this situation more than once in my career, I can tell you with deep regret that depending upon your manager, this reporting can be the equivalent of spitting into the wind.  Not only will the information go nowhere, but it will come back and hit you in the face. 

Another caveat of coming into information of wrongdoing is that the person who informs you felt comfortable telling you to relieve themselves of this burden – but not comfortable with you alerting an authority figure.  Now you may be comfortable with taking this information to an authority figure, but to them, you were the solution – not necessarily “the” solution but a solution for them.  You taking it further is not at all what they wanted, and they resent it.  We are now back to that nasty tattletale mentality. 

One of the oldest sayings I learned after entering the workforce is “You are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem.”  It really is just that simple.  For every person who knows something is wrong and looks the other way, you just signed on to be part of the problem.  This is how problems in society become overwhelmingly prevalent.  Everyone looks the other way.  As long as it doesn’t happen to me – it’s not my business.  If you remember nothing else of this article – remember this:  What can happen to them can happen to you.  Once you know that, you realize that by looking the other way, you are taking your small step for society to become a victim of your own making.

We all see things from a different vantage point.  What seems glaringly obvious to some may seem all but invisible to another.  That is why is it so important for those who see it and get it to speak up.  Do the right thing.  Take your one small step towards righting the ship we are all on. 



Denise Yearian and Heidi Smith Luedtke February 14, 2020; Tattletale Kids: Why Kids Snitch and What Parents Can Do; MetroParent, retrieved from the world wide web on April 15, 2020 from

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