By David Joel Miller.
Should you ever rat? When is it OK to tell on someone?
We tell kids to talk to the teacher if someone bullies them. We tell them no one likes a tattletale. Teenagers are vehement that it is never OK to tell on your friends. Parents of teens wish someone would tell them when their child is in danger. What things might your child be doing you would want to know about? What things do you hope your friends are keeping secret?
In a previous post, I wrote about the way in which kids will tell their friends and their friend’s parents about things they would never tell their own parents. When you hear those things, what should you keep to yourself and what is so important you need to tell? Should we accept the rule that we should never rat? Should it be OK if our kids keep those things secret?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were all or nothing rules for behavior in life? Some people try to make absolute rules, for themselves and for others. They are mighty sure what the right thing to do is until you call one of their actions into question.
Most of the time in life, things are on a continuum, from good to less good to a little bad to a lot bad. Telling a friends secret to someone else is on that continuum.
As a parent, I would want to know if my child were thinking of killing themselves. Wouldn’t you? Could your child feel good about themselves if their friend confided to them that they were suicidal and they did nothing? People who talk about suicide may want to be talked out if it, to be reassured that there is someone who cares enough to intervene and stop them. Would you want to be the kind of person who saved a life or the kind who let someone die?
How would you explain to the parents of a murdered child that you knew someone was going to kill their child but you didn’t want to tell? Could you live with yourself after that? How would you feel if your friend bullied someone and they killed themselves?
It is a good idea to talk with you child about morality and ethics before they have to make those tough decisions.
If a teen is endangering their life with drugs and drinking and driving do you owe it to them to talk to them about it? If they don’t want to stop and continue to endanger their life it is permissible to tell someone else who is in a position to stop them.
Every year we hear about a local teen that is killed by driving drunk, being a passenger of a drunk or being hit by a drunk driver. Does not trying to stop that when you know about it make you a bad friend? Would you rather be a good friend who kept a dead friend’s secrets or a bad friend who saved their life?
Professional counselors and therapists have legal constraints on secrets. We can’t tell things we might like to such as having a client tell us about past crimes. The counseling relationship has a high level of trust and if we violate that trust we keep clients from coming for the help they need.
But there are other things that counselors are legally and ethically required to talk about, like intervening if a client plans to kill themselves or someone else. We also can intervene when someone does not know how to care for themselves even if they want to be left alone.
Knowing when to keep a secret and when you need to tell to protect that friend, others and society is one of the tasks people need to learn to be adults. A parent’s major job is to help their child grow up. That sometimes it is OK to tell is a lesson we all may need to learn.
P. S. I know that tame rats can, in fact, make good pets. I have no idea why we call people who tell on each other rats. Rats don’t tell on each other. At least I don’t think they do.
I know there are some of you who won’t agree with me on this, you are entitled to be wrong.
Still feel free to comment on this or any other blog and feel free to like, forward and recommend to your heart’s content. Till next time, David Miller LMFT, LPCC.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.
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