Friday 20 October 2017

Smug Married: There is a telling downside to children speaking up

Telltales need to be taught the difference between major and minor woes, says Aine O'Connor

Aine O'Connor

MY secondary school career spanned the first half of the Eighties, Ireland's answer to the Sixties, and ours was a young school where the times could change easily enough.

Change was perhaps slower in older schools, but still the schooling our generation got was more different than any that had gone before in that kids, and parents, had more rights.

From the sounds of it, previously the attitude had been that anyone in receipt of an education should be grateful and never question how it was delivered or what sanctions were imposed. There certainly seems to have been a perception that if you were punished, you must have deserved it -- a perception now so antiquated as to make dodos look newfangled. I simply cannot imagine not repeatedly reversing over someone who even looked crooked at my child, much less hit them.

My nutter tendencies aside, the "you must have deserved it" school of thought was dubious on lots of levels, but most especially because it encouraged children to remain silent on any kind of abuse.

Change was afoot before all those revelations about institutional abuse, but part of the response to it was to extra encourage children to tell. It was wonderful in that it gave children permission to trust their own judgment when someone gave them the creeps, to scream and run and tell when someone asked them to do something they weren't comfortable with. So many children before got caught because we thought we had to obey all adults and didn't know how to say "get stuffed, you pervert" and run.

But there's telling and telling. If someone, be it another child or anyone else, is doing something you don't like to you, yes, tell the parent or teacher or friend who can help. Kids have a natural tendency to shop others anyway so if there's a chance of sympathy, even just an absence of someone saying "well you must have done something to deserve it" there's no stopping them. And it's totally normal.

(Number One had no one in the house to tell on, but Number Two was a wagon for it, so we banned tale telling. She adapted by learning to shout very loud exactly what he was doing that displeased her, telling without technically telling.)

But as they grow they need to learn that some things they have to sort themselves and some things are simply not worthy of reporting. Telling to get someone into trouble or because you are not getting your own way are the not so desirable side-effects of encouraging children to speak up their displeasure.

Am I a heartless cow to think that a 10-year-old who pitches up to tell on another 10-year-old who won't give them a go on the scooter doesn't deserve a go on the scooter, purely on the grounds of being old enough not to be telling crap tales?

Crap tales devalue the whole reporting system. Any woe is not a major woe, and it's important to know the difference.

It's one thing when a child tells a story from their day to the sounding-board adult in their life. It's quite another when they tell with a view to getting someone in trouble, especially about things that don't affect them, such as the minor unpunished misdemeanours of others or the contraband contents of a lunchbox.

Apart from the fact that other kids dislike them for it, is it not a disservice not to tell them kindly but firmly to stop telling tales?

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