Over the years, I’ve heard a few parents complain about their kids tattling. Then again, I hear news stories in which something horrific happens and people are upset that someone knew beforehand and said nothing. I think the two go hand-in-hand, that one leads to the other, and I’ve never chastised my kids for tattling because of it. I don’t want them to ever think that they should stay quiet if there’s trouble brewing.
I was bullied greatly in school. We moved often, so I was always the new kid in school. I’d lived in other countries and even on a yacht, so I was very different. I was quiet and shy which didn’t help either. In seventh grade, I lived in an area along the Mexican border and my blonde hair and lack of Spanish language skills made me stand out as different in another way, too. The combination made me a huge target for anyone who wanted to bully someone else. Even though I had labored over learning to speak like the Americans on the news and rid myself of the Australian accent that had previously made me stand out even more, I was still bullied at every school I attended–which was at least one new school a school year for my elementary and middle school years.
Seventh grade was the worst. My belongings were destroyed. I was threatened numerous times, told repeatedly that I’d be beaten up when walking home, and even attacked in a classroom to the extent that my science teacher demanded that my schedule be changed for my own protection since not a single person in the class had been on my side. Other than changing my schedule, no one seemed to do anything about my being picked on until my parents moved, yet again, to a new school district that had a reputation for more discipline where they hoped I’d be treated better. (Though they’d homeschooled me for a while when we sailed the world, they only did that when there were no schools available. I don’t think it occurred to them that homeschooling could be a possibility with schools nearby, though I would have jumped at the option of homeschooling again.)
To me, telling children not to tattle empowers bullies because kids end up afraid of getting in trouble for speaking up for themselves. They’re afraid of not only getting the bully mad, but their parents and other adults, too. As a person who was bullied as a child and was powerless to stop it, whose complaints seemed to do little, and who was afraid to go to and from school each day, I see no reason why anyone should put up with bullying.
So instead of teaching my children not to tattle, when a little one has come and complained about something trivial, I’ve asked if they followed the chain of command. Which meant, I expected them to first speak up to the person in question and express their dislike for the behavior and try to work it out. If that wasn’t enough to stop it, they’d need to tell that person that they’d be going up the chain of command if it didn’t stop–in other words, “I’ll tell Mom if you don’t stop.” If that wasn’t enough to end the problem, then they could come tell me and I would help them resolve the issue, if possible, or just handle it myself if necessary. They weren’t allowed to tell me about a problem if they hadn’t tried using their own (kind, nice) words first to solve the problem themselves. To me, this method teaches problem-solving skills and doesn’t result in kids who think they have no option but to put up with being mistreated.
As an adult, I wouldn’t go to a workplace and put up with being harassed and insulted, but I don’t expect people to read minds either. I expect that some people–even adults–are too dense or too lacking in social skills to realize that their behavior isn’t funny nor acceptable if no one else will say something about it to them. If I’m too scared to speak up, then there’s a serious issue that needs to be dealt with. I probably need to leave a workplace with such serious issues, but I still need to say something to keep the problem from happening to others. If I spoke up and nothing changed, then I need to go up the chain of command and notify a supervisor or file a police report or whatever is appropriate for the situation. I expect kids to have similar options when dealing with bullying or teasing that gets out of hand or whatever you might call it, but if they’re taught to be quiet and say nothing, they won’t have any options.
So, don’t be surprised if when I’m told that bullying is happening in my homeschool support group, I tackle it head-on. I don’t pussyfoot around bullying. I expect people to speak up and let me know if something can’t be resolved by the people involved, and then I’ll go directly to the parents, if I know who was involved. I’ve found that most parents are trying to raise decent kids and will work with me if I explain there’s been a problem. (And, yes, kids get a bit out-of-hand even in homeschool support groups. The important thing, in my opinion, is to help the kids learn how to handle such awkward social situations and let them see the options available to them now as children so that they’ll know how to maneuver through such situations as adults some day. To me, that’s part of the beauty of homeschooling–that parents can be there and be more aware of what’s going on and help their children deal with it, to give them the power and skills to get past it. To learn social skills.)