If you think about it, you’ll know what it is: Don’t tell your parents.
It’s the command issued by the pedophiliac relative, the sociopathic primary teacher, and the sadistic middle school coach, and its purpose is to intimidate and isolate.
I don’t recall being warned as a child about what to do if I ever heard it. I don’t think I warned my own kids until it came to my attention that it was among the repertoire of intimidation used by an odious grown-up playground bully. I’ve been to workshops for adults on child safety and I’ve witnessed children being taught about good and bad touches and so on. But I don’t think that the use of this phrase, which may well be the most obvious behavior shared in common among perpetrators of all types of abuse — physical, emotional, or sexual — of children, has received the attention it deserves.
I have to wonder how often a superintendent tells her principals and a principal his teachers that if he ever hears an adult under his supervision say, “Don’t tell your parents” to an individual child or a classroom, he will ask for her resignation.
I wonder how many parents think that one of the first warnings their child needs to hear is if they ever hear an adult say, “Don’t tell your parents,” they should do exactly that, and that when an adult says “Don’t tell your parents” to a child, it means the adult is doing something he or she knows is wrong.
Saying, “Don’t tell your parents” – even if the occasion of the command itself is innocuous — is a nasty, brutish thing to do to a child. The commanding authority figure is trying to exclude the parents from some aspect of the child’s life. If the child obeys the command, he becomes a co-conspirator of sorts. If she doesn’t, she is being disobedient to the commander and must fear his or her vengeance, and you can be sure that those who use the phrase will retaliate: kids know this too. The commander has thus succeeded in isolating the child and forbidding her access to the people who she should expect to be able to rely on for help.
For the child to be able to summon the courage to tell her parents what the teacher says not to tell, she has to be able to trust that her parents can insure that she will not be punished. This is why it is essential that the phrase simply is not part of acceptable discourse any more than the N-word is.