by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Being the youngest in my family with three big brothers, I must admit that I always seemed to find something to tattle about. Was my tattling a ploy to get attention? I suspect so — at least some of the time.

Whatever my reason, some might say my childhood job was to be the family informer. Sometimes I think I tattled because I was mad at one of my brothers, and I wanted to get him in trouble. Of course, this particular brother usually did something worthy of getting in trouble for. I just passed along the incriminating information.

Many children fear the label of rat, squealer, fink or blabbermouth, but there are things children should feel free and comfortable to tell.

Children may be embarrassed or ashamed of the inappropriate behavior someone has had toward them. Their confusion can make them hold their tongue when they should in fact tell what was done.

Sometimes our friends confide in us, and it can be difficult for us to know the difference between secrets that we should keep and those that we need to share with another.

I had a young childhood friend who vowed me to secrecy about an adult’s inappropriate behavior toward her. And I have to tell you that her secret was one I kept her entire life. My friend passed on several years ago, but I’m still sad because she may have endured much pain and unhappiness, and I never did anything to stop it.

It had been so easy for me to snitch on my brothers. Yet I can’t explain why I couldn’t blab about my friend’s experience to my mother or some other authority figure.

When I think back on all the tattling I did on my brother, I think that in fact, this brother was doing things that he shouldn’t have been doing. At the time I didn’t understand why I needed to tell on him — that it wasn’t to get him into trouble but to help him stop doing things that were harmful to his health.

Children need to be taught the difference between senseless tattling and a legitimate complaint or concern. As in many areas of our lives, an examination of our motives is paramount.

Is what we feel compelled to share something that affects ours or others’ physical or psychological safety? Is our motive with the intent to protect? Is there an emergency — when danger is imminent?

When I was eleven, I had a friend tattle on me that resulted in my suspension from school for three days. I don’t think I ever thanked this friend for her brave actions. It was clearly her concern for my safety as well as that of others that she snitched. I was at first humiliated and angry. But I can tell you now that her tattling completely altered my life. I was forced to make some needed changes that put me on a better path for the rest of my life.

If you have a child who never hesitates to keep you informed, don’t discourage the line of communication. We don’t want to teach our children to shut up. The era of children seen and not heard has long ended. Let’s teach our kids how to evaluate and process information so they know what’s important and know how and when to tattle.

Your child may end up saving another child’s life just like my friend saved mine.