Tag: Duke University lacrosse 2006

“Don’t Tell Your Parents,” Part 5: Why Kids Don’t Tell

 If you are just joining us, have a look at the earlier posts in the series [1, 2, 3, 4].

Why do kids comply when an authority commands, “Don’t tell your parents”? Simple obedience? I don’t think so. 

I think generally they keep silent out of  fear:  fear of what their parents will do and, in turn, fear of retribution from the forbidder.

There are other reasons of course.

Mixed loyalties might be involved in some cases: the child likes the forbidder and doesn’t want him to get in trouble. Say the forbidder is a teacher who has gotten a hot new sports car. He invites some of the girls to take a spin during their lunch period. No real harm is done, as far as the girls can see, but they know their parents wouldn’t understand that their teacher is just a fun guy.

Or perhaps the injunction is a relief to the child.  I imagine this might be why some of the Duke lacrosse players went along with the dean’s and in turn their coach’s instructions not to call home. After all, what kid wants to tell mom and dad he was at a party with a stripper who claims several of his teammates raped her? Even if they suspect sooner or later the story is bound to come out, later feels better, and in the meantime they can hope that somehow the Duke administration can fix the problem and make it go away. In group situations like these there is also the  peer reaction to consider, especially if parents know one another.

But then there are cases where the command is accompanied by a threat –sometimes explicit (remember  the shaving episode teacher who threatened his class that those who told their parents couldn’t attend the Christmas party) and sometimes not.  

Maybe no punishment is threatened, but from past experience the kid knows that sooner or later, the forbidder will get back at him, should the kid’s parents complain. I once asked a class who felt they were being unjustly harshly punished for minor infractions why none of them complained to their parents. Silence. Finally, one boy said several months back he told his mom about something similar that the same teacher had done, and she came in to talk to the teacher, and afterwards things weren’t better for him, they were worse. The rest of the class nodded their understanding and agreement. I too knew he was telling me the truth, and I was helpless to tell him that this time — or the next, or the next– things would go differently.

I suspect that most of the time when kids don’t tell this is the reason why — and it is a good reason.

So how do parents find out?
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“Don’t Tell Your Parents” Part 2

A Google search for the phrase “Don’t tell your parents” is instructive. Top of the list is a Wired article “Don’t Tell Your Parents: Schools Embrace MySpace,” followed by “Don’t Tell Your Parents You’re an Atheist Until After Christmas… Here’s Why” from atheistmind.com, and “GTA [Grand Theft Auto] Rome: Buckle up, and don’t tell your parents” on Science Buzz. You get the idea.

I thought I’d find a lot of material aimed at parents and those who work with children. Maybe I should have searched differently. There are a few instances of what I expected, for example, a list on ParentsTalk of the 5 best and worst things to say to a grandchild, and brochures from the City of London Police, and the Bridgeport Diocese.

I  did find three very different examples of situations in which the phrase was used. Regarding an article about NHL player Derek Boogard’s Fighting Camp in which kids 12 and up learn how to fistfight their way to victory in hockey matches and receive souvenier tee-shirts “splotched with blood-red dye,” one commenter  said:

“Derek Boogaard isn’t doing anything too new. I remember my coach teaching how to throw my weight around and get away with holding when I was 11. I’m sure every kid that played hockey when they were a kid had a coach teach them how to fight, or at least how not to get embarrassed in a fight. The only difference between my coach and Boogaard is that my coach started every session with, ‘don’t tell your parents I told you how to hit people,’ and Boogaard starts his sessions with, ‘tell your parents they owe me $600 or I won’t show you how to hit people’.”

Business as usual, in other words.

The most bizarre incident involved a Merced, CA elementary school teacher who had three 8-year-old girls shave his beard off during class time last November. Then the class was to write stories about it, which he’d keep secret and not send home with the rest of their work. They were not to talk about it either:

“And if they did tell, they would have to sit out the classroom Christmas party, children told their parents.

” According to two sets of parents, their daughters kept mum about the incident until the parents pried out the information that had been visibly troubling the girls.

 “‘My daughter came home from school, and she was upset because her friend told a secret and couldn’t come to the Christmas party,’ one mom said.”

Three weeks later the principal wrote the parents:

 “As you may be aware, the last week before the Thanksgiving break, Mr. McLane had the class participate in a face-shaving activity with an electric razor as a story starter for a writing assignment. He later instructed the students that if they told they would not have a Christmas Party. Needless to say, that instruction was inappropriate and was not well received by several parents, staff or the Administration. On behalf of myself and the District, we want to apologize to the students and parents.”

As of January 10, he was back in the classroom.

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