But Really, Don't We ALL Need a Tattle Phone?
April 27, 2019 4:22 PM   Subscribe

A preschool teacher installs a "tattle phone" for kids to tattle into, instead of coming to her. A parent who works for This American Life records it (with permission of everyone involved). Transcript
posted by Eyebrows McGee (50 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh my God this was adorable

But yes, children display the one thing that remains a constant throughout their lives: the strong, if not nearly compelling, desire to be heard. And, hopefully, understood.
posted by Ashen at 4:41 PM on April 27 [19 favorites]


Yeah, yuck, Nathan.

As a kid, I never understood the difference between tattling and asking the teacher's help; it seemed to depend on the teacher's temperament. I hope kids these days are really given a chance to understand. There's a difference between "My friend Simone said no at me" and "Eli hit me."
posted by Countess Elena at 4:51 PM on April 27 [13 favorites]


I always see tattling as a desire to get someone in trouble or "because they broke the rules" as opposed to a desire for assistance.

At least that's how it seems with my kids anyway.
posted by Dr. Twist at 5:04 PM on April 27 [7 favorites]


When I was pre-K I had much better opsec than these little narcs. When you've got dirt on someone you don't go running to the toothless tattle phone, you hold it over Stevie's head until the time is right.
posted by axiom at 5:10 PM on April 27 [73 favorites]


Flashing back to my time spent at my kids' preschool. This is so real -- both the kids and the desparate-but-brilliant teacher move of the phone in the first place.

Honestly 70% of anything I know about managing people and dealing with adult interpersonal stuff I learned from the preschool teachers during those years.
posted by feckless at 5:39 PM on April 27 [9 favorites]


The part of this that broke my heart when I listened to the episode was the kid who said the phone doesn’t work.

It worked for the adults because they didn’t have to hear the tattling. What the kid wanted was for the teasing or hitting to stop. And the tattle phone didn’t accomplish that because there were no consequences for the kid doing the teasing or hitting or whatever it was that I’ve blocked from my memory.

So many of the formative lessons of my childhood were boiled down to ‘asking for help even in the official channels will be useless’ and I’m still trying to undo the damage from that.

This piece just brought me riiiiiight back to that super emotional place of knowing I was being ignored at best. Sure, my problems were usually bigger than another kid calling me a mean name, but there was no relief anywhere.
posted by bilabial at 5:48 PM on April 27 [121 favorites]


I always see tattling as a desire to get someone in trouble or "because they broke the rules" as opposed to a desire for assistance.

Sometimes it seems like the only way a kid can protest the fact that life isn’t fair and we don’t live in a just world. The danger is when kids realize they can tattle to capitalize on adults’ ignorance of the dynamics in a group of kids.
posted by sallybrown at 5:55 PM on April 27 [10 favorites]


One of my strongest memories of childhood is when I was being bullied by a another student. I went to my teacher and told her what happened. She just looked at me blankly and said "what do you expect me to do about it?" in a tone of voice that implied that she would do absolutely nothing about it.

That was the last time I ever went to a teacher about being bullied. The bullying didn't stop for another 7 years and it probably took me another 5 years to recover from it.

This is a guilt free way to abandon children who need adult help.
posted by nolnacs at 6:17 PM on April 27 [58 favorites]


Kid 6 is forever me. I'm sorry.
posted by Fizz at 6:20 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


The danger is when kids realize they can tattle to capitalize on adults’ ignorance of the dynamics in a group of kids.

Yeah, the flip side of this is that adults often treat the affairs of children as though they're not a big deal and like what kids mind is "fairness" and not that they are being hurt by others. I remember having money stolen from me in elementary school--I think it was cash I'd brought in for the book sale--and still having teachers just be like "oh well kids are kids". Absent ways to enforce the rules when people aren't being strictly watched, it doesn't matter if you have kids or adults, you are punishing people for getting caught, not for breaking the rules. Preschoolers need to learn how to behave with each other even when adults aren't watching far more than they need to learn some kind of abstract lesson about how life isn't fair.
posted by Sequence at 6:21 PM on April 27 [23 favorites]


If teachers felt compelled to act on every complaint, then tattling could become another form of bullying, by eliciting punishments through false accusations.

I think probably the real solution is to not lump young kids together into giant groups with inadequate supervision.
posted by mantecol at 6:54 PM on April 27 [9 favorites]


On a more somber note, this reminds me of the Wind Phone, which TAL also did a piece on:"Really Long Distance".
posted by gyusan at 7:02 PM on April 27 [6 favorites]


I think probably the real solution is to not lump young kids together into giant groups with inadequate supervision.

Agreed. There are so so many predictable bad outcomes when you put groups of kids together.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:04 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]


doing the teasing or hitting or whatever it was that I’ve blocked from my memory

Hi. I think the way I feel about that last one is probably off-topic, but. Hi. Yeah. Same.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:08 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


A teacher who is observant and sees a kid in distress and class dynamics and can teach kids about bullying, friendship and tattling - needs a break from small stuff that can go into a tattle phone. The podcast made clear this was a happy kindergarten class.

The farting in your face being acceptable with apologies is SO kindergarten. And the games session that consists entirely of setting out the rules!
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:11 PM on April 27 [11 favorites]


When my little brother was 3, he dumped all the ornamental glass marbles my mom kept in a jar on the bathroom sink into the toilet. My mother got very upset with him and told him to sit in his room and think about what he'd done. He told her "I will not! I will think about fire trucks!"
posted by ChuraChura at 12:02 PM on April 12 [67 favorites −] [!]


I'm sorry I know this is from that other thread but kids need to realize they can tattle all they want and justice shall not come, the transgressor can always think about fire trucks. There will be no justice until we can not think about them.
posted by vrakatar at 7:44 PM on April 27 [20 favorites]


A teacher who is observant and sees a kid in distress and class dynamics and can teach kids about bullying, friendship and tattling - needs a break from small stuff that can go into a tattle phone.

Most of the teachers I learned to mistrust thought they were one of these.
posted by traveler_ at 7:47 PM on April 27 [22 favorites]


I listened to this when it was broadcast on TAL not too long ago, and I also thought the kid who said the phone didn't accomplish anything was right. But then, most of the time going to a live adult and telling them also didn't accomplish anything.

I wonder how society needs to change so that young children can feel there is a sense of justice in the world in a way which leads to there actually being actual justice in the world. Because what we're doing right now, it ain't working.
posted by hippybear at 8:25 PM on April 27 [13 favorites]


I like this kid Eli's style.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:49 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


tattling is one of the first paradoxes we come across as humans. How can that thing Jaden did be wrong, but also my telling on him?

and so on
posted by philip-random at 9:00 PM on April 27 [16 favorites]


I'm a school bus driver and this is driving the elementary kids. Every damn red light or bus stop I got at least two little ones at my seat, "Bus driver! Bus driver! So and so did this." Or it's someone said a bad word.

This is why elementary school buses are so late. We have to chase them back to their seats over and over.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 9:00 PM on April 27 [8 favorites]


I feel like we're all studiously ignoring the elephant in the room: the whole baby-duckie metamorphosis. There are several possibilities here, all disturbing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:30 PM on April 27 [19 favorites]


I wonder how society needs to change so that young children can feel there is a sense of justice in the world in a way which leads to there actually being actual justice in the world.

There isn’t any pre-existing justice in the world. There’s only that which we create and part of our job as parents, educators, and adults is to teach children to mediate conflict and not run to authority every time they don’t like something.

I have a seven year old who is just fucking obsessed with what’s fair and unfair in his mind and his outrage, outrage that makes him lose his mind that no one seems to care that his older brother got baseball cards and he didn’t. Or worse, when he got kicked, even though he’s totally blind to the several steps he willfully took that contributed to him getting kicked.

It’s not about ignoring a child’s needs or safety, if a child is resorting to a tattle phone over a bullying issue, then that child isn’t being adequately supervised. It’s about adults not jumping in to try to correct every injustice a 4 year old sees so the kid A. Learns that every other kid has different advantages/disadvantages and gets away with random shit and B. Starts figuring out how to solve all the smaller interpersonal conflicts themselves so they can solve the bigger ones later in life. I suspect we fell into the trap of catering to our younger child too much and now he just can’t handle it if someone else gets more French fries than him even though he has more love and attention and care than any kid needs.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:03 PM on April 27 [40 favorites]


Of course there isn't any preexisting justice in the world. If there were, when the citizens of Flint went to the city council complaining about their water, they would have been listened to.

I mean, this shit goes right up the line into life-threatening measures.

I get it that kids need to learn how to manage their own interpersonal affairs, but this whole culture of just shrugging off "tattling", often with dismissal instead of mere indifference, is something people learn in childhood and then carry out in adulthood with those who have less power than them because that's how they believe power is exerted in our society.

There has to be a better way. What we are doing now ain't working.
posted by hippybear at 10:12 PM on April 27 [15 favorites]


It'd be real cool if teachers weren't expected to manage the emotional and mental health of 25-30 kids they will know for about a year, while also educating them to poorly made standards that determine far too much about their own job security for bad reasons, all while dealing with an utter lack of necessary resources to even manage a baseline level of education for even half the class sizes they are handed.

I mean, it sucks ass how some of them end up handling it, but the problem doesn't start there. It's bonkers to expect a teacher to manage 30 kids in a classroom and understand the relationships and dynamics between each of them, and then forget it and start anew each year. It doesn't work because it's a bad idea from the start, and we're just kinda accepting it?

Reduce class sizes and you'll see some of the problems parents are worried about diminish, because teachers literally don't have time to nail down which problems are real and which are lies and which are just little kid nonsense and do their jobs. Teachers don't take a low-paying job because they enjoy watching kids struggle, quite the opposite. It's society that fails them, and thus the kids.

I mean, we're asking workers in an incredibly unjust system to teach kids about justice? Kids ain't that dumb, and teachers ain't superheroes either, so where does that land us? Back with us, the voters. Check into your local school boards(and all other elections)!
posted by neonrev at 10:23 PM on April 27 [66 favorites]


This piece just brought me riiiiiight back to that super emotional place of knowing I was being ignored at best. Sure, my problems were usually bigger than another kid calling me a mean name, but there was no relief anywhere.

I recently had the privilege to sit in on a few lessons in a UK private nursery, they had a very good and empowering approach to this stuff.

Outside playtime, and a kid comes up to the teacher. Do not remember the exact injustice, but his friend was just "not playing right".

Teacher: Did you tell him that you didn't like it?
Kid: yes, and he's still doing it.
Teacher: Did you ask a friend for help?
Kid: Yes, Tommy came and he also thinks it is unfair. But Billy keeps doing it.
Teacher: Well, maybe Billy should play by himself for a while.
Kid: OK, I will blah blah with Tommy now.
Teacher: Maybe Billy will be ready to play nice later.

So the kids had a whole procedure established, a self-policing system of justice, with the sanction of "if you are bugging others with your behaviour, then they will not play with you".

Seemed to work pretty well!
posted by Meatbomb at 12:33 AM on April 28 [19 favorites]


At my little one's primary school, they implemented part of the national curriculum against bullying.

The result? Regular bullies learned they could get their victims in serious trouble by reporting them for bullying. The word lost all meaning, thanks to teacher ignorance of the child social dynamics.

Moderation can't be solved by education alone, folks. Authority and responsibility need to work together.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:58 AM on April 28 [23 favorites]


Poor Max. A kid is hurting him and it becomes NPR lols as it erodes his sense of trust.

I'm a teacher and I am really struggling to find the right words to express that this has got to be the worst classroom management idea I've ever seen. That this teacher finds the typical behavior of little ones so bothersome that she thinks it's a win to get them off her case while completely ignoring social issues and bullying....I am having a very hard time right now.

You're literally LYING to children. Kids think the rules are simple: you tell a grownup (or the phone), and a grownup (or the phone) listens, and then your problem gets solved. You get help because that's what grownups do. Grownups don't listen to your sadness then make a lol podcast about it it. That's monstrous.

You're taking the very moral compasses of small children, and instead of I DON'T KNOW, ACTUALLY WORKING WITH THEM LIKE YOU'RE PAID TO DO, give them a faux solution where they essentially share their heartaches and souls to a thing that doesn't help them at all. So they say their thing and nothing happens.

Max's response is heart breaking--he's right, the phone didn't do anything, he's still getting hit even after telling the phone/grownup listening that someone is hurting him. And the kid who calls his mom to get picked up early? He's spending the day waiting for her to come, and then she doesn't.

Worse is the teacher's response. She says the phone works because the kids no longer come to her with their problems. A teacher says her classroom management of ignoring and lying to kids is a win because kids no longer ask her for help. The thing is, she's right. She's created a system where kids are actively taught that adults don't help them. They don't come to her anymore because now they can tell the phone.

And just like Max and the kid whose mom never picked him up early discover, the phone lies.

They'll stop telling the phone soon enough.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:24 AM on April 28 [95 favorites]


I mean, teaching kids the difference between telling and tattling is HARD. I have a 3 and a 5 year old and the eldest has weaponized tattling and it's a hard habit to break. I've explained it as "do you need my help or do you just want him to get in trouble?"

I still want her to be heard but I do need her to learn that intent behind our actions matters. This tattle phone neither helps nor teaches, but it could with more moderation of the content. (I sympathize with the teachers AND the children, educational dynamics are fucking hard).
posted by lydhre at 3:35 AM on April 28 [10 favorites]


Here’s the Ira Glass “This Tattle Phone Life” clip you need and deserve.
posted by adrianhon at 3:46 AM on April 28


I agree that there are several parts to this:

1. Better staffing ratios are needed
2. Better approaches are needed
3. Teachers need to be able to tell which bullying reports are spurious and which ones are true (better staffing ratios and approach will help with this). Assuming they *all* are spurious/not worth addressing is bullshit. Hear the report, take it seriously, and watch those kids like a hawk to see whether it's really happening.

I also agree that this is sad and teaches children they won't be heard. I was bullied mercilessly by my brother when I was growing up, and got all the pushback when I told authority figures about it.

Also I can't stand that "Whoever said life was fair?" crap. I heard that all the time when I was a kid. I mean, shouldn't we as empathetic human beings who believe in justice at least *try* to make it a little more fair? Make the world a tiny bit less shitty?
posted by cats are weird at 4:27 AM on April 28 [18 favorites]


Children who don’t feel heard by authority figures eventually give up trying to ask anyone for help and can become adults who take matters into their own hands. We’ve all seen how this can turn out. This phone is teaching the wrong lesson.
posted by Jubey at 4:33 AM on April 28 [9 favorites]


I agree that adults should step in if there is actual bullying, but I do believe that kids need to learn that life isn’t fair. Kids who grow up believing that it is lose their shit when they get one fewer French fry, like Slarty Bartfast’s kid, or spiral into a deep depression when good grades in school does not seem to equal a real-life job, like me.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:00 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


they essentially share their heartaches and souls to a thing that doesn't help them at all. So they say their thing and nothing happens.
Sounds like prayer.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 6:10 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]


It's not like, in the absence of the Tattle Phone as a Terminator-like technological infiltrating assassin of their faith, the kids are going to grow up without experiencing unfairness. These are the people whose lives are going to be defined by, Hey, remember when old people didn't try to mitigate global warming at all because they were worried they might have to eat less hamburgers?

I'd be quite interested to see what would happen if you did have kids grow up in an environment where all of their interpersonal conflicts were intensively evaluated and adjudicated fairly through some extraordinary investment of resources; that seems like an alternative which probably hasn't ever been put into practice. I suspect that, were such an experiment run, the result would not be kids with any less of an ability to deal with the vicissitudes of life compared to a control group.
posted by XMLicious at 6:31 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


kids need to learn that life isn’t fair

They learn that without ever being taught. Pretty much from day one.
posted by 41swans at 6:56 AM on April 28 [16 favorites]


And life may not be fair, but school should be, as should the adults who are paid to help kids.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:14 AM on April 28 [24 favorites]


I agree that adults should step in if there is actual bullying, but I do believe that kids need to learn that life isn’t fair. Kids who grow up believing that it is lose their shit when they get one fewer French fry, like Slarty Bartfast’s kid, or spiral into a deep depression when good grades in school does not seem to equal a real-life job, like me.

I don't think this follows. Kids who believe that authority figures cannot be trusted to do fuck-all are unlikely to tell them when they have problems. Kids who understand teachers are unfair, mean, and useless are more likely to resolve conflict themselves, either by letting themselves be walked over or by retaliating in any way they expect to get away with.

I still don't trust educators to do much besides ableism and whining about how hard their lives are, but I'm very fortunate. I sought and was able to get support from other adults. Mental health outcomes tend to really suck for people who "understand that life isn't fair" so well that they trust no authority figures.
posted by bagel at 7:29 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]


Five years old is when most of us learn that life isn't fair and the adults aren't going to save you from bullies. I sure did. I can count on one finger the number of adults who ever did anything to help me my entire life. It was especially memorable when my parents complained to the principal in middle school (the teacher was on his last year and doing the bare minimum and using every sick day he could and thus his classroom was free-for-all lord-of-the-flies time) and even the principal was all, "We have no way to motivate him to do anything."

Also, "weaponized tattling" definitely exists and works to also harass someone. Been there with that one too.

Once again: almost everyone does not want to deal with bullies. This is probably because the only way to really stop one is to outright SEPARATE the children, which for some reason nobody is ever, ever, ever willing to do (and really, wouldn't it be easier to move a kid to another classroom rather than when it happens to adults and we can't move them into another job) and/or perhaps put the fear of God into the bully to scare them so much that they'll stop. That latter one might be hard to do when kids have recess, though. But seriously, why must we keep the bullies and bullied together all the time? Oh, wait, it inconveniences YOU to do that?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:40 AM on April 28 [7 favorites]


I do believe that kids need to learn that life isn’t fair.

I would prefer that they learn that life can sometimes be made fair by other people working to make it so. I would prefer they learn that, while life isn't always fair, at least the people around them care about knowing when problems can and can't be solved.

I would prefer that they be taught, carefully and by example, that there are different types of problems, and that each should be solved, or ignored, individually.

That's why we have huge parts of the judicial system, and don't just judge people quickly based on a few facts. That's why there are different sentences for the same crime depending on circumstances.

And a lack of nuance in the education of young children is going to produce people who don't understand why you shouldn't just lock up every single drug offender for a super long time (or worse). Or why financial crimes committed by clean, wealthy people who aren't actually covered in blood should be punished at all.
posted by amtho at 8:40 AM on April 28 [17 favorites]


Five years old is when most of us learn that life isn't fair and the adults aren't going to save you from bullies.

Maybe a while ago, but in the past 15 years many evidence-based social and emotional learning curricula have been developed and they're being used all over the place.

It's natural for adults to look at tattling and other social issues through our own experience, but everyone should know there's no reason for teachers anywhere in the US to not use a standard social skills curriculum in their class.

Kids learn to solve their own problems for the most part. They learn what's tattling and what's helpful. They learn how to react but they also learn how to act. They learn how to be a friend. Kids going down the bully path can and do learn how others perceive them and how to behave in a more positive way.

So no, kids learn adults may not be able to save them, but when you've got enough kids all using the same emotional language and social skills, they won't need adults to step in.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:53 AM on April 28 [7 favorites]


What I got out of this is that the school and the parents were all very much on board with this being a safe outlet for the kids to verbalize "injustices", whatever those may be, not a device for the teacher to ignore the kids. I believe that this teacher would be hyperviligant about personally addressing any tattles that posed requiring any level of serious consideration and action. It may even help the kids speak up who may be wary of speaking to an adult lest they be a "tattletail" and live with the shame of that. I'm speaking to this particular article and situation, not any other where it could certainly be used to reduce adult/child interactions or desperately needed intervention for the child.
posted by waving at 9:27 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


I still don't trust educators to do much besides ableism and whining about how hard their lives are

Oh seriously, screw this entire line of thought. There's a big throughline of people trying to work out their own school age trauma in this thread by dunking on the idea of teachers, because to be fair, some teachers do suck, but it's not good for a conversation, it's good to take to therapy.

Lots of us had bad teachers, myself included. It was bad, and I'm still dealing with the repercussions of bullying and being beaten pretty regularly. I had far more amazing teachers than bad, all of whom worked their everloving asses off to be good. Blaming specifically the teachers and not the entire system that is set up by politicians not only to allow such things, but in some states encourage terrible conditions at public schools, is bullshit. It's lazy, it's punching down at people who are already underpaid, and it's wrong. Direct your anger correctly.
posted by neonrev at 10:09 AM on April 28 [43 favorites]


I mean, teaching kids the difference between telling and tattling is HARD.

Forget hard. I simply don't believe young children's brains are sufficiently developed to be able to make this distinction. Hell, I know adults who can't make that distinction. It's just not reasonable to put that burden on a four- or five-year-old. I had that no tattling s*** forced down my throat so hard that I didn't report serious physical abuse until the symptoms got so bad I had to be rushed to the emergency room. And then the worthless principal tried to say that it couldn't possibly have happened because of course I would have said something immediately if it was true.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:19 AM on April 28 [11 favorites]


There should be a flag-phone episode of the MetaFilter Podcast.

MEFITE 1: jonmc's favorite band sucks

MEFITE 2: filthy light thief won't stop stealing my post ideas before i get a chance to tell anyone

MEFITE 3: jessamyn bought another lemon

MEFITE 4: someone on askme didnt judge me but used a judgy subtext in theirsuggestion

MEFITE 5: my post was banned unfairly because it was about the poop cabal

. . . . .

MEFITE 4736: i try to call the flag line but it's constantly busy

MEFITE 4737: someone said they'd kick me in the taters but i don't even know what taters are, i just transferred here. didnt we have taters for lunch?
posted by not_on_display at 10:54 AM on April 28 [14 favorites]


I dunno, I was bullied hard as a kid, and on the rare occasion when an adult did intervene, it only made things worse. The bully would eventually come back angrier than ever, because now I was a snitch in addition to being a nerd.

Kids get bullied for all kinds of reasons, but in my situation, it was definitely a case of absent social skills. I just did not have the mental or emotional equipment to deal with normal social interactions, so I was always the "weird one" or the "different one." Probably some of the things I said and did were just plain rude by anyone's standards, simply because I didn't know any better.

I think if you want to help kids like Young Panama Joe, you need to teach them how to deal with their peers, how not to stick out in a bad way, and yes, how to deal with normal childhood teasing. It's a life skill. And honestly, it probably wouldn't hurt to enroll them in some martial arts classes, so they can defend themselves in worst-case scenarios.

Yes it would be great if schools were perfect and kids were perfect and parents were perfect and the world was perfect. But in the meantime, I think what kids that age need are survival skills, not well-meaning but ineffectual adult intervention.
posted by panama joe at 3:21 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


you need to teach them how to deal with their peers, how not to stick out in a bad way, and yes, how to deal with normal childhood teasing.

You'd know that this was needed by ....
posted by amtho at 10:14 PM on April 28


The only action I ever took that stopped a bully from bothering me was punching him in the face.

He is now a convicted murderer.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:01 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


And the moral of the story is, don't let grumpybear punch you, it will make you want to do crimes
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:13 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]


Or, foster systems that will stop bullying without the victim having to take up violence.
posted by amtho at 10:15 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


« Older 🍽️🐍💩🔬   |   Would I be whining if I said I needed a hug? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments