Kiddy omerta or (mostly) stop snitching

Soon after Tony started kindergarten, Wendy and I noticed that he seemed to be taking the school’s code of discipline a bit … too seriously. Specifically, I remember him coming home and telling us that he’d informed the teacher that one of his classmates was out of her seat when she was supposed to be in place drawing or tracing or fingerpainting or engaged in whatever educationally enriching pastime was supposed to occupy the little monsters’ attention.

Had she bothered him?

No, she just broke the rules.

Now, Wendy and I may have occasional differences, but neither one of us is interested in raising a snitch, a stool pigeon, a cascittuni.

Not that it’s so dramatic. Pretty much every parent spends extensive time and effort trying to get the kids to follow some basic rules, only to find the once anarchic, feral beasts turning into rigid enforcers of every petty rule upon one another. Their natural personalities and their upbringing both have a say in how far they take the self-deputization, but it’s pretty common.

So, what to do?

I didn’t want Tony becoming a tattletale, but neither did I want him sitting quiet while some deranged classmate ran amok with a sharpened popsicle stick. It was time to start drawing distinctions. Certainly confusing distinctions at this early, black-and-white stage of development. But distinctions nonetheless.

So I told Tony that a lot of rules are in place to make the lives of teachers and other authority figures easier, but he didn’t need to worry about those — let the teacher enforce his own rules. In fact, a lot of those rules are silly, so while he shouldn’t go out of his way to break them, he doesn’t need to worry if his friends break them. I told him that he should only tell on rule-breakers if he thinks somebody might get hurt, or if somebody is taking or breaking stuff that doesn’t belong to them.

I think that’s enough for now. So far, it’s working. Tony seems to understand the distinction between petty red tape and rules that actually protect people and property. And he understand that his parents don’t emphasize the former but consider the latter worthwhile. We haven’t had any more tattletale incidents, though he has complained about the snitching ways of a classmate.

I’m sure we’ll run into a few speedbumps, but we had to start somewhere, and this was as good a place as any to set the precedent for (mostly) no snitching.


  • Evan Wilson says:

    This reminds me of a story I heard recently in the “Kids say the darndest things” department.

    A friend of mine’s kid did the same thing as Tony, telling on a kid in his class for some minor infraction or another. (He might have done this more than once.) In any case, at some point when they were picking the kid up from school one day, the teacher told the kid’s parents what had happened. On the way home, the mother made an off-hand remark to the father about the kid’s future profession.

    Cut to a few months later when the mother was taking the kid someplace which required an elevator ride. After they got on the elevator, one of the other passengers smiled at the kid and asked him that typical question: “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Without batting an eye, the kid replied: “I want to be an FBI informant!” (Needless to say, the mom turned all different shades of crimson and the elevator went silent, though I suspect the story was repeated quite a bit later that day!)

  • J.D. Tuccille says:

    FBI informant?


    That would rate … quite a conversation.

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