Working with elementary age students who are learning about navigating their social interactions while also learning math, science, language arts, and so on, I have frequently been asked by parents trying to help guide their children about the concept of tattling.
The context has typically revolved around my generation’s conviction that one should not be a “tattle tail”, thus we have aspired to imbed this dogma in our children so as to save them from the social stigma of being laden with this moniker.
Ironically, our generation is also likely the first to so unwaveringly embrace and pursue our children advocating for themselves in all areas of their lives.
I recently had a conversation where the question was asked “what’s the difference?”
While I have always had an internal sense of the difference, the fabulous question forced me to articulate it.
When a child talks to an adult (teacher, parent, coach etc) in response to being hurt, feeling fear, or needing help to navigate or learn, that represents self-advocating. However, when a child talks to an adult in an effort to share information that can place a peer in a position of being uncomfortable as a result of the action the adult might take, that is tattling.
In essense, the fine line is motive. If the motive is for one to help him or herself navigate, grow, and attain greater comfort then the behavior is one of advocacy. Conversely, when the motive is to bring discomfort to another, then we must continue to help those who show the latter actions understand the negative effect of those social choices.
It is a fine line, but one worth defining more clearly for our children and students so as to continue to support their social navigations.