Should Children be tattletales, snitches at school?

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In lessor school offenses, should kids be encouraged to tell on schoolmates? Does repeated snitching raise the likihood of resentment, mistrust, retaliation from peers? Is this just exchanging one problem for another one? In a time when kids are learning how to relate to others, does snitching make it more difficult to see the world as a positive place where one can find his place and fit in?


I don’t know that I’m willing to define any offenses as being “lesser” if they involve any sort of disobedience, but I did make a distinction for my kids between “telling” and “tattling” — an artificial one, to be sure, but one that worked for us.

For things that could result in actual physical harm like going out of the house without permission, turning on the stove, playing with fire, going with a stranger, etc., I always rewarded my kids for “telling” on behaviors like this. For other things like not turning out the lights on time at bedtime, not doing something we told them too that the other kid noticed, etc., we called that “tattling” and discouraged it by either giving any punishment to the tattler, punishing both, or other similar things. It depended on the motivation of the child. It wasn’t always *obvious* when the motivation was to get the other child in trouble, but many times it was, and that we did not tolerate. If the motive was for their good (again, this was easy with behaviors that could result in physical harm, but sometimes noticeable for other things as well), then that was treated differently.

I’m sure we weren’t able to be anywhere near 100% consistent, even though we tried, but our kids did learn why we considered those behaviors different, and what was behind them.

Dave Barnhart

I agree that tattling should be either censured or even punished. As a shorthand, I’ve always considered tattling as telling on someone with the desire to get them in trouble. If the motive is to protect others or the offender or the integrity of authority, I see that as permissible.

If you want to see tattling in action, just search for a “Leave It to Beaver” clip where Beaver and friends were in school with the girl (I think her name was Judy) in his class with long pigtails. She thoroughly enjoyed telling on the others.

I have a book called “Proverbs for Parenting”. In the book the following verses are listed as admonitions against tattling:

Proverbs 10:12—Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.

Proverbs 19:11—Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 17:9—Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.

Proverbs 25:9,10—Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret: lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.

Tattler’s certainly have problems with their reputation and their loyalty is suspect.

I agree with Bros. Barnhart and Benzing that the criteria for judging one as a ‘tattler’ is as much about the motives of the teller than the offense of the tellee. We also have to be careful about the attitudes we instill in our kids as we try to make this distinction clear to them.

For example, a friend was telling me the other day that her daughter had seen some boys holding a boy by the arms while another boy pounded him in the the stomach. The daughter wasn’t sure what to do, because she didn’t want to be a ‘tattle-tale’. The mother told her to tell the teacher about it, in a “I’m not trying to be a tattle-tale, but…”.

My reaction is “Really???” Is that how we’d react if we were walking through the Kroger parking lot and saw two people assaulting another? And when we called 911, would we apologize to the dispatcher for ‘ratting’ someone out? Saints preserve us. It’s no wonder that people just stand around clueless while crimes take place in broad daylight. They are probably either 1) afraid to be considered a snitch or 2) waiting on Bruce Willis to show up.]

As for the “retaliation from peers” question, I don’t think we should teach our kids to be afraid of what others might think if they believe that they are doing the right thing. Quite frankly, I’d rather my kids err on the side of courage than diplomacy.

I am more focused here on the chronic, school yard tattler who predictably will have 1st, 2nd or 3rd hand information on who wrote the bad word on the rest room wall or kicked in the door panel. Relatively petty (but not unimportant) stuff is my focus, NOT offenses involved with: blood, bullets, smoke, threats to life and health, drug selling, felonies, 911 issues.

Does Matt 18.15-16 apply here - confronting the offender personally, rather than reporting him to the school authorities? Should students be encouraged to urge offenders to confess their misdeeds personally?

Writing a bad word on a bathroom wall is vandalism (and possibly obscene), and so is kicking in a door panel. I don’t think either one are petty. Neither one are an offense against another child, but against the school, as is is their property being defaced and damaged. They are not the kind of offenses, IMO, that Mtt. 18 is addressing. A child may encourage the offender to come clean though. Wouldn’t withholding information requested by the school be a lie of omission if you know who the offender is?

Now if a child gossips or calls another a bad name, then you have an offense that a young person can more aptly use Mtt. 18 to deal with.

Perhaps the issue of “tattling” is the golden opportunity to teach regenerate children and teens to walk in the Spirit using the principles of God’s Word. It is certainly an opportunity to counsel children concerning self righteousness and the deceitfulness of our own hearts. The problem is, counselling takes time.

I am with Susan here. Many overworked elementary school teachers in the Christian schools tend to make arbitrary rules about tattling. They do it to keep sane! One more, “he looked at me on purpose” and the teacher would be found in the lounge babbling incoherently. But by the time the student reaches junior high, the no tattling or no snitching attitude becomes damaging to the student, their peers, and the atmosphere of the school. Parents in the high school will complain to a teacher that cheating is rampant, but neither they, nor their student, will take steps to confront the offender or “snitch” on them. A girl will brag about immorality to other girls in the locker room, and the “good” girls will not know what to do. Boys will bully in gym if the teacher is not vigilant and other boys will look away. Sometimes the teacher who informs parents of a serious need, after speaking with the student, becomes branded as a troublemaker. The one or two bold students who confront and then report the problem are considered to be tattling, even though that was not the original connotation of the word.

My husband and I tried to teach our own children not to tattle over personal offences since “love covers a multitude of sins”. As they grew older we encouraged them to confront their peers personally if there were serious issues, using Christ’s admonitions in Matthew. If that didn’t work, their Dad was known to go with them to the authorities of the school to expose serious problems. This necessitated teaching courage and helping the children to find good friends who would support them. Neither we nor our children always obeyed the Scripture in these matters, but thank the Lord, He leads us to grow in Him and forgives our sins. In retrospect, I wish I had taught my children to pray more about some of these situations and let the Holy Spirit help them resolve problems, “speaking the truth in love” when needed and learning to “chill” when appropriate.

L Strickler

Your comments are truly insightful to me. Don’t stop.

Would this universal problem be aided by very practical teaching/role modeling sessions perhaps in church youth groups or even Sunday school? Bring Bible principles to bear on these issues? E.g, when to confront / engage privately a fellow student who has sinned vs. when to avoid them, etc.

Does more need to be written in this area?

If such role playing takes place, it should include how to graciously receive someone confronting you.

L Strickler

[L Strickler] If such role playing takes place, it should include how to graciously receive someone confronting you.
yes I agree

Though obviously not original with me, I ran this idea by a friend this weekend. He is a state level, Christian school assn. admr. He confirms that some schools have a student discipline committee ( i.e., “neighborhood watch” or Happy Hallways type of mentality?). He thinks it is a good idea in a good school — needs faculty involvement though.

I could see how this could take some of the pressure off the lone, student informant.