Telling Tattletales Out Of School

We all remember it: the student hierarchies, social rules and rituals that we as children clung to for peer validation, and especially the “snitches get stitches” mentality of the playground. These staples of childhood have been around for ever, and acted as a sort of rite of passage that informed us how to blend in – or stand out – for better or for worse. With the introduction of internet social media, though, students are now constantly in each others’ periphery, and parents today are playing a very different ballgame with their kids than previous generations. Bullying, in particular, has expanded from something that only really happened in-person, to include anonymous public message boards and internet profiles; and the effects of this 24/7 drama are changing the psyches of an entire generation.

A positive side of this could be that, because social media and web logging (“blogging”) encourages the user to talk about themselves, children who use social media sites are expressing their feelings more. The downside is, they’re probably not expressing these feelings with their parents – after all “snitches (still) get stitches,” and tattletaling is still seen as a sign of weakness.

So how do we, as parents and therapists and teachers and adults, remedy this? There are so many anti-bullying initiatives out there changing the landscape of how we talk about bullying, but what are we saying when we talk to our children? First and foremost, we need to de-stigmatize tattletaling – and we should probably stop calling it that altogether. A child whose peers are bullying them should never be responsible for the abuse they receive, especially if that child has a disability. In fact, children with learning disabilities are more likely to get bullied than their neurotypical peers, which can compound the symptoms of their disabilities and even cause regression. That doesn’t even address what happens to neurotypical victims of bullying, or even what’s going on with the bullies themselves. With that in mind, here is a short manifesto for adults to follow when addressing bullying:

I will…
  • Encourage my children to speak up about any abuse they’re receiving in school and online
  • Take my children seriously when they do speak up, and include them when discussing how to deal with their bullies
  • Maintain my home as a safe space for my family to fosterĀ self-expression and honest discussions
  • Identify problematic behavior in my child that might cause themĀ to bully others, and address it directly
  • Seek therapy for my child if I feel their behavior is a risk to themselves or others
  • Not simply tell, but also show my child that calling out bullies can be a display of strength and bravery

We may not be able to change every playground ritual, but bullying should never be left for the victims to resolve. It is up to all of us to face this problem head-on; and that initiative starts in the home.

Dr. Michael Clatch, Psy. D
Posted in: Therapy
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