A recent article in the online magazine Modern Mom has this catchy headline: You Should Let Your Child Tattle — Here’s Why! Yes, another one of those headlines looking to grab your attention by asserting something obviously counter-intuitive (or just plain dumb), and then informing you of what you already (or should have already) know(n): that you as parent have to help your child learn the difference between telling (to keep themselves or others safe) and tattling (trying to get someone else in trouble).
Now this is a really important life lesson (one which too many adults still don’t have down). Adults who are looking to sexually assault or abuse children depend on kids not understanding the distinction. They will often tell their victims not to say anything or they’ll be tattle-tales (and that’s bad). Or if the child “tattles” they won’t be believed (because they’re only a kid and kids love to tattle, right?).
At it’s February fundraising breakfast, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s Executive Director Mary Ellen Stone said that assault against children has decreased 38% in the last 13 years. She attributed this to increased awareness of the issue, decreased tolerance for child sexual abuse, and increased support for the victims. Parents are now paying greater attention to adult behavior towards their children, as well as more closely listening to what kids say about adult behavior. Still, about 29% of sexual assault happens to children under the age of 12.
All kids need guidance in managing their emotions, in figuring out if they’re looking for help or looking to get someone in trouble. They need skills in solving their own problems, and also knowing when to seek outside help. Violence needs silence — parents need to be willing and themselves have the skills to coach their kids through the often-confusing landscape of telling.