Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Tattler

Lately the Boy has felt duty-bound to inform us of all possible infractions of house rules by his sister. Anytime she has grabbed something that she should not have, or is in an area she should not enter he races to us, barely able to contain himself as he describes her offense. As we go off to correct her he follows, chattering incessantly about the details of her actions. It has become annoying.

We are, of course, to blame for it. For a time he felt responsible for correcting her himself, which in turn led to battles and generally a condemnation of her on his part all out of proportion with the original offense. And of course it's not his right or responsibility to discipline his sister. So we encouraged him to notify us when she was out of line and allow us to deal with it.

Now he does. A lot. He has become a tattler.

A tattler is, according to American Heritage Dictionary, an informer. Simple enough, but the word is almost never used in anything other than a perjorative sense. We do not like tattletales. We shun them as annoyances or as rats. No one likes a tattler.


Why am I so put out by the very thing I have asked him to do? If his sister had retrieved a knife from the kitchen and was busy racing around the yard with it, I would be grateful for my son's desire to share the details. If she was working a magic marker into the upholstery I would praise the Boy for his whistleblowing. He would not be a tattler in my eyes, but a responsible brother and son. Yet when he eagerly spills to me that the Girl has a pad of postit notes she is freely distributing about the family room, making a minor mess, why do I feel he is somehow narcing her out? Why is he then a tattler?

At what point does he, or anyone else, cross the line from responsible citizen to rat? And how do I convey that to him?

As a culture we urge that wrong-doing be reported. We have laws to protect whistleblowers. We pay police informants or offer criminals special deals to "sing" about their partners in crime. Hell, we give Mob informants whole new identities for turning on their colleagues.

Yet, we don't like the guy who's always telling the boss who slipped out the door with a box of pens from the supply room or showed up five minutes late. Even the boss thinks he's a pest.

Where is the line? How much information is too much? When do we say "when"?

And how do I keep my son from becoming a rat?


Dread Pirate Jessica said...

Teach him the word 'schadenfreude' and that it's a way of not being nice. Anytime he seems too gleeful whilst sharing the tattling details, make him try to spell it out loud. I don't know if it would work but it would be hilarious.

Baywatch said...

that might just work.

also, getting him a pet rat.