17 July 2010

The cultural case for tattling

When the boys are with their grandparents, they are encouraged and praised for what would easily be recognized as tattling. When the boys are at school with their teachers, they are admonished and redirected when exhibiting the exact same behavior. I originally wondered if this divergence might be due to the specific differences between my parents and the boys' teachers, but having witnessed this phenomenon occur over and over again, I have come to the realization that the crux of the matter is an East-West conflict that pits collectivism against individualism.

The more common redirective responses I've heard from the boys' friends' parents fall into either of two categories.

The first sounds roughly like, "Never mind what Friend X is doing, just focus on what you should be doing." This presupposes that while the child and Friend X may be in physical proximity to each other, the completion of their relative tasks is completely independent from each other. Not only does this create a sense of separation for the child from those around him, it also teaches that involvement with those around him likely impedes his progress and interferes with personal success.

The second common stance goes a little like, "Don't tell me about this problem...I can't do anything about it from here. Go back and use your words to help Friend X understand how you feel and what you want to happen." And while I, myself, use this reasoning with the boys, I wonder if it serves more to disempower the parent than it does to empower the child. I can see how this logic might be utterly foreign to the authoritative mindset of first generation Asian Americans, who have far greater reverence for the wisdom and guidance of elders. From the boys' grandparents' perspective, this so-called tattling is a sign of respect in deference to their judgment.

So now what? How do I reconcile this difference for the boys? I can't tell my parent to stop praising the boys when they "tell on" someone--mostly because I've tried and they've persisted. And I can't tell the teacher that when my boy mentions that a classmate is being off-task, he should be positively recognized for caring about the progress of those around him and respecting her authority.

I have no pithy conclusion.

This image of the boys has nothing to with the written portion of this post. But, you know, if I didn't post a photo of the kids, you might not know what blog you landed on, what with the unusual amount the text and all.


Hyacynth said...

I love it when I come here and find an unusual amount of text. {Though I love the photos, too, you know. Don't get me wrong!}

I am totally the parent who tells her kids to use their words pretty often, but normally I get involved, too. I've been everything from teased to chastised for being too involved in the kid matters. But I guess I don't understand how kids can work things out when they don't have the skills yet to do that. They learn from watching us.
Maybe I'm actually Asian and I don't know it.

LH said...

I'll accept you as an honorary Asian mama anytime, and certainly when it comes to the collectivist/individualist dichotomy, I know you are more likely to fall former side, where community and cooperation are valued.

Ivan Chan Studio said...

They'll learn to navigate the different and often complex rules of different social environments.

And yes, I love the parent involvement and sharing, modeling, encouraging, and teaching of skills. The whole "noble savage" idea drives me nuts; we're obviously social animals and mammals at that--if more parents got involved, maybe we wouldn't have so much communication breakdown in adult relationships (or childish behavior during difficult conversations/confrontations)!

Why am I ranting, and what's this soap box doing under me?

Lam said...

For right now, A1 has a Kinder teacher who absolutely loves the so-called tattling because she has a very strict rule-follower son and she's always (lovingly) comparing A1 to her son.

Lam said...

Oh, and I should mention she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. So that only serves to make my point about the cultural underpinnings.

Ivan Chan Studio said...

Wow. Yeah, no kidding! From a collectivist culture and Holocaust survivor culture...