WHY KIDS SAY THEY DO NOT TELL

How caring adults can help youth with: Tattle, Snitch, Tell and Report
By Kelly Noftz, Project Cornerstone Youth Partnerships Coordinator

Bullying is disturbing. It is wrong. Of course, we caring adults want to be “there” for youth when they face a worry that is too much for them to handle on their own. Yet, many young people will not tell an adult about bullying. Some kids think they need to handle it on their own; others are distrustful because they have received unhelpful advice in the past. Sometimes kids think that adults will just make the situation worse or are worried about being called names like, “tattletale or snitch.” There are many barriers to positive, open communication between youth and adults when it comes to telling or reporting worrisome social difficulties.

We adults need to teach young people that it is right to speak up against injustice. “As adults, we need to apologize to kids for the concept of tattling, which we made up and passed on to them. It’s not tattling, it’s being a witness to a crime,” write Stan and Julia Davis, in Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention (Research Press, 2007). Kids need adults to teach them to speak up against injustice, and they need other kids to support them when they speak up. Telling an adult and reporting an injustice is not tattling or snitching. It is the right thing to do!

In Project Cornerstone’s Expect Respect workshop, youth share their worries about school climate issues like bullying. Always, the wise advice to seek the help of a caring adult when bullying occurs is met with a collective, “Arghhh” from youth. Adults have a bad reputation when it comes to giving youth support when they report bullying. Below is a sampling of comments we hear from youth about why they do not “tell” adults about bullying and suggestions on how caring adults can help repair our bad reputation!

Why kids say they do not “tell”: I’m No Snitch!
Nobody wants to be a tattletale. That’s kid stuff. But, telling isn’t tattling. Here’s the difference. You tell to protect someone; you tattle or snitch to get someone in trouble. It is all about your motivation. Not talking about bullying only protects the kid who is bullying, and why would you want to do that?
Tip for parents: Open a conversation about the values that your family stands for. Discuss the difference between tattle and tell. You might start with: “What is the purpose of tattling? Why do we do it?” Common responses include: to get attention for ME, to bully someone, for revenge, to get someone else in trouble, for entertainment, etc. Not very flattering, is it? Now, explore “Why do we tell? What is the purpose of telling?” Common responses include: to get help for someone, to keep someone safe, to prevent something from happening, to protect a person or property. Now, that defines “telling” as something that your family can support!

Why kids say they do not “tell”: My parents will worry about me.
Some kids don’t want their parents to worry about them. They think that their folks already have enough problems, without them being a problem, too. Hey, your parents love you and want you to be safe. They can be a great help, if you let them.
Tip for parents: Reassure your child that although you may have a lot going on, they are important to you. Listen to what they say without interruption. Tell them that you want to help, that you are on their side and will be their ally. Help your child identify other adults who they can turn to when they need help or advice, too. Encourage them to talk to these caring adults.

Why kids say they do not “tell”: I Suck!
Kids who are bullied often feel ashamed and don’t know what to do. They think it’s their fault. If you’re bullied, know this: It is NOT your fault. You are NOT to blame. You have a right to feel good about yourself.
Tip for parents: Support youth by providing clear boundaries and high expectations for their behavior toward others and toward themselves. Help youth replace negative self-talk by having frequent conversations about their value and worth in your family, your neighborhood, school and community. Surround them with positive examples of how to treat yourself with dignity and respect.

Why kids say they do not “tell”: I’m Scared!
Kids who bully sometime threaten that things will get worse for the target if they tell. But, if no one ever tells, it just protects the person bullying and it may get worse anyway. So, talk with a trusted adult. Yeah, it’s definitely scary to get bullied—but don’t let fear stop you from taking your power back.
Tip for parents: Build trust with youth by being a caring adult who gets to know, value and respect their development and maturity. Look for ways to help them find their spark, develop and explore their interests.

Why kids say they do not “tell”: Adults Don’t Get It…
Some kids try to tell an adult, but they don’t feel heard. Some adults say bullying is just a part of growing up and give advice that’s not helpful. Adults may say to fight back or, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you”. Kids know that words may not break your bones, but they do hurt for a long time and can make you feel broken on the inside.

Tip for parents: Youth know that there are adults they can trust, and adults who cannot be counted on. Help them identify caring adults they can count on, and develop strategies for seeking help from others. When youth need help with a problem, show them how to be persistent in their pursuit of an adult that will be “there” for them.

Asset building requires ongoing, consistent, redundant messages to youth that they are valued and deserve a safe and caring home, neighborhood, school, and community. Adults can start building the confidence of youth by getting to know young people, by listening to their concerns and letting them know that we are on their side.

When a youth asks for your help as an adult, here are ways you can support them:
1. Listen to their concerns, without interrupting.
2. Do not judge the “worry”. Be a supportive, caring listener.
3. Check that you understand what they have reported. Ask questions to help you understand. In cases of cyber-bullying, or if “evidence” is available, collect and save documentation.
4. Talk about options. Ask for their thoughts and ideas. Offer suggestions and brainstorm possible responses.
5. Help youth decide on the action(s) to take in response to the bullying.
6. Offer to help youth with the course of action. Provide assistance, if requested.
7. Check-in to hear how the action steps are going. Ask if additional help is needed. Continue to check-in and show interest.

Be the one to start an asset building conversation with youth. Ask questions. Really hear what youth have to say about pressing issues. By talking with youth about difficult social dilemmas in a calm, reassuring way, you will build positive communication and help create moments in time when youth feel valued, respected and known!

More on assets as “Keys to Success” for youth can be found on the link: Thriving Youth.

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