Although we want our students to be well connected and have a solid social foundation and network at school, the allegiance they can have for their peers can sometimes be detrimental, especially when the result is adults not knowing that their children/students are engaging in some inappropriate or dangerous activities. I understand this reluctance to tell on friends and to potentially get them into trouble because of the perception that it could destabilise the relationship. This is especially the case between girls where trust is the foundation of all friendships. However I’ve seen time and time again how adhering to this unwritten code can lead to serious outcomes for students which could have been prevented if some adult support had been sought before things went too far.
So what to do about this issue? Today whilst perusing some Child Protection material I found a possible solution.
We all know about those students who seek an adult at any and every opportunity to tell them about what other people are doing wrong. Often called dobber cats or tattle tales, these children tend to annoy other students (their telling on others can and often does fracture relationships) and they can be perceived by teachers as lacking resilience because they have not yet developed the skills to at least have a go at sorting out their problems themselves. Such children may present as needy, anxious and/or dependent and attention seeking/needing. I would think that what we want to develop in students is the ability for them to at least attempt a number of assertive strategies to solve conflict with others before seeking adult support and assistance.
Reporting on the other hand is a different story. I would expect teachers to report an occupational health and safety hazard if they came across one, with the intention being quick action resulting to reduce the chance anyone coming to any harm. Using this term reporting (or getting adult assistance or support) is a more useful way to frame telling as it implies an intention to make things safer and improve outcomes for others. Giving children the responsibility to report issues (especially as they relate to the safety of themselves or others) can be a really useful way to alleviate anxieties about disclosing information about peer behaviour to adults.
When disclosures have been made its important to thank the child for taking the risk and the time to do what they consider to be the right thing and also (if possible) to maintain an air of confidentiality in regards to the source of information when speaking when the other student/s involved. Doing so has the potential to reduce the levels of harm that could unfold and also protect the relationship between the students from deteriorating.
What is your experience of student loyalty and the unwritten codes they abide by? Do you have any thoughts or ideas about how to best manage this common issue in schools? You might also want to share what the unwritten laws were for you when you were at school. Have things really changed that much since then I wonder? How?