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Nobody Likes a Tattletale

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Dewey: Reese wiped his booger on my lunch bag.
Hal: Dewey, what have we taught you about snitching?
Dewey: "Only snitch when asked to snitch."
Hal: Good boy.

Every kid ever knows that adults can't be trusted to solve problems, especially when you're dealing with The Bully who steals your lunch and shoves you into mud puddles at recess. Nobody likes a bully, but the problem is, nobody likes a squealer either. Someone may bring up the easy solution of telling an adult, only to be swiftly shot down. Even from a young age, children are concerned about how they look in front of their classmates, and the last thing a kid wants is a reputation as the teacher's pet/class stool pigeon who'll go squealing to the teacher at the slightest provocation. A bully may exploit this trope by taunting their victim with some variation of "Are you a snitch?" or "Go ahead, be a snitch and see how far it gets you." An Extreme Doormat in particular may refuse to tell on others.

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In some cases, this trope is reinforced by a teacher, parent or other authority figure who's tired of the kids tattling on each other for everything and anything, but it can backfire. The child may interpret it as not being able to talk to an adult about any problem for fear of being labeled a tattletale, even one where an adult would be able to help. The end result is usually the child taking matters into their own hands, sometimes resulting in disaster.

In works where the protagonist is a child, this trope is frequently used to keep the plot moving along in situations where an adult would be both able and willing to solve the problem if they were told about it, but from a narrative point of view, the child should have to solve it themselves. Can lead to "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot if an adult tells a kid they should've talked to them from the very beginning. Still, The Stool Pigeon will not be very popular. This will often lead to An Aesop; there's a fine line between snitching on someone because you want to get them in trouble and telling an adult because someone has done something legitimately wrong or because there's an emergency.

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A darker version of the trope is when a person is shamed by everyone else for telling on someone, even if they were justified in doing so.

This trope also covers cases of actual tattletales that everyone hates. If they go too far, their actions may lead to more serious consequences than social, such as a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown against the offender.

Sub-trope of Adults Are Useless. Related to The Bully, The Stool Pigeon, and Poor Communication Kills. A common problem faced by a grade-school Kid Hero. May cross over with Bad Liar if it's obvious to an adult what kind of problem the child is facing, even if they don't say it. See also Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves, which may be the much more serious and adult version.

In Real Life, the attitude toward this trope has begun to change due to issues about bullying and sexual abuse.

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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood: Invoked by Dio Brando. As part of his scheme to isolate Jonathan, he publicly (and falsely) accused him of being a snitch, turning the other boys at school against him.
  • Nijigahara Holograph: Takahama tattles on his bullies rather than confronting them or taking another action. When Amahiko learns this, he angrily confronts Takahama, considering him to be a Dirty Coward.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • Calvin's mother once called the school to report that Moe was stealing money from him, even though Calvin begged her not to because he knew what Moe would do to him if he found out he'd squealed. Moe never finds out, but he does mention to Calvin when he's forced to return the money that, "Somebody ratted on me, and it's gonna be a dark day if I ever find out who."
    • In another series of strips, Susie got sent to the Principal's office after the teacher caught her reacting to Calvin's provocations. At first Calvin is relieved that she got blamed instead of him, then he starts to panic inside when he suddenly realizes she might actually tattle on him. When she comes back, the first thing he asks her is, "You didn't snitch on ME, did you?" She did, and she shrugs it off when he calls her a "stoolie" and a "canary" because she's so mad at him that she doesn't care.
  • Crabgrass: When Kevin tells the teacher that Miles was the one who drew a tattoo on him in permanent marker, Miles calls him a 'rat' and refuses to speak to him. When Miles gets home, he tells his parents what happened, and while his father agrees with him, his mother points out that all Kevin did was tell the truth, and encourages Miles to apologise to him.
  • Peanuts: In a 1959 strip, Lucy and Violet are engaged in a shouting match. Violet initially appears to have the upper hand until Lucy fires back with, "You're a no-good, tale-tattling little sneaking snip-snap pony-tailed ape!" A visibly shaken Violet walks away without saying another word.

    Films — Animation 
  • Robin Hood (1973) has a whole group of kid-appeal characters who want to have adventures like Robin Hood; among them is Toby the turtle, who Skippy Rabbit and his sisters suspect will tattle on them for trespassing in Prince John's castle, so they all force him to take an oath not to tell.
    "Spiders, snakes and lizards' heads / If I tattle-tale, I'll die 'til I'm dead!"

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Scent of a Woman: This trope informs one of the major plot threads of the movie, after Charlie and his friend George witness three of their classmates play a prank on the Dean of the school. When the Dean pressures them to give up the culprits' names, George tries to weasel out of trouble without actually snitching by claiming he couldn't conclusively identify the three figures because he wasn't wearing his contact lenses, then hangs Charlie out to dry by saying Charlie saw it more clearly than he did. Charlie simply refuses to rat out his classmates, even when the Dean first tries bribing him and when that doesn't work threatens him with expulsion. It's obvious that George and the three boys (who never come forward even when they know how much trouble Charlie is in) are quite willing to exploit this trope to let Charlie take the fall for all of them, which Colonel Slade calls them out on in his Rousing Speech at the end of the movie.

    Literature 
  • American Girls Collection: On Halloween, Molly's brother Ricky ruins her and her friends' costumes and candy by spraying them with a hose. When Susan wants to tell Molly's mom about it, Molly initially doesn't want to tell her mom because she doesn't want to be a tattletale.
  • The Berenstain Bears: Discussed in "Learn About Strangers". Brother almost follows a man who has a radio-controlled airplane. Sister stops him from doing so, then tells their parents what happened. The displeased Brother comments that there are rules about snitches, but Mama points out that Sister wasn't tattling because she just wanted him to be safe.
  • Captain Underpants: Melvin Sneedly is hated by most of the students for being a notorious snitch (as well as for being a rude egomaniac). In "Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets", he is stuck Writing Lines on the chalkboard with the other teachers for ratting on George and Harold for ruining the Invention Convention, and he writes, "I will not be a tattletale."
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
    • In "The Last Straw", when Greg and Rodrick were little kids, they used to tattle on each other so often that their mom gave them a toy turtle called the Tattle Turtle that they could tell their problems to instead of her. It worked in Rodrick's favor, because he could do things like steal all the money from Greg's piggy bank and Greg couldn't tell their mom.
    • Also in "The Last Straw", Greg is not happy with the fact that Manny's constantly ratting him out. He notes that he used to be a tattletale until the day he was cured of the habit; he overheard Rodrick swearing, so he spelled it out and Susan gave him the Soap Punishment and didn't punish Rodrick for saying it first.
  • Discworld sees it twice with adults in the City Watch:
    • In Night Watch Discworld Corporal Quirke gets caught taking bribes, which is one thing, but he burns his bridges with his fellow officers when he tries to drag them down with him, including a new recuit who just went along with what Quirke was telling him. You Do Not Drop Your Mates In The Cacky. Said recruit (the young Lance-Constable Vimes) does understand this, and refuses to admit Quirke pushed him into it.
    • In Thud!, Angua, the Watch's first werewolf, warns Sally, the first vampire, that she's going to find stakes and holy symbols in her locker, saying for her it was dog biscuits. The Watch isn't — mostly — prejudiced against nonhumans, they just want to see if the New Meat is a snitch.
  • Don't Squeal Unless It's a Big Deal is a children's picture book that explains when it is and isn't necessary to ask an adult for help solving a problem. The teacher asks her students not to tell on each other for small things like pulling pigtails and stealing markers, or at least to try solving the problem themselves first. However, a situation does happen where it is necessary to run and get an adult — that is, when the teacher slips on some spilled food, hits her head on the floor and knocks herself unconscious.
  • Invoked in Dragondrums: after Piemur is transferred to the drumheights, he becomes a target of some pretty nasty "pranks" by the other drummer-apprentices. He refuses to tell anyone in authority for fear of being labeled a tattletale, and it almost gets him killed.
  • The Great Brain: Mr. Standish asks Tom who put a frog in a student's desk and Tom refuses to tell him because he doesn't want to look like a tattletale. Mr. Standish gives him a good spanking for this, much to Tom's ire, as he believes it's unfair to discipline someone for something they didn't do.
  • Help Me Be Good: In "Tattling", Tami repeatedly tells on T.J. for minor infractions. The narration notes that you should not do what she's doing because you might annoy those around you. Tami herself finds this out the hard way when T.J. starts avoiding her. The narration then says you can tell on someone if they're doing something risky. Tami accidentally spills some cereal and T.J. briefly considers ratting her out, only to help her clean it up. Tami then apologizes for snitching on him and says she'll stop.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has a subplot where Harry and friends set up an underground club called Dumbledore's Army, where they learn defensive magic the Sadist Teacher Professor Umbridge has banned. Everyone has to sign it at the first meeting, and Hermione later reveals she put a jinx on it in case one of them ever snitched. By the time someone does, the club itself has become punishable by expulsion. The snitch, Marietta, ends up branded with giant purple pimples on her face that spell out the word "SNEAK," but everyone is warned in advance and escapes punishment. Word of God is that Marietta gets scarred for life.
  • The Homework Machine: When the D Squad first hears about the homework machine that Brenton built, Judy thinks about raising her hand and telling the teacher, but decides not to because everyone already calls her a goody two-shoes and she doesn't want them calling her a tattletale too.
  • Invoked in How to Lose All Your Friends. The narration says that one way to make everyone hate being around you is to rat on everyone for small things like running in the halls and making silly faces at you.
  • Miles McHale, Tattletale has this trope as the main plot. The eponymous Miles constantly rats other people out. The teacher comes up with the Tattle Battle; whichever team tattles the least gets extra recess. Miles's team keeps losing, so Miles decides to swear off snitching until he finds out that Hattie has fallen down. He tells his mother about this and he realizes that telling someone is okay if somebody's in some kind of danger.
  • My Weird School: In "Miss Child Has Gone Wild", Andrea informs Mr. Granite that AJ and Alexia are passing notes in class, and Mr. Granite just tells her not to be a tattletale.
  • Ramona Quimby:
    • An incident in Ramona the Brave is the Trope Namer. When Mrs. Griggs' first-grade class is making paper bag owls, Susan copies Ramona's owl and the teacher praises it in front of the whole class. Ramona is upset, but she feels she can't tell Mrs. Griggs what Susan did, because earlier, the teacher had said to the class, "Nobody likes a tattletale." So, out of frustration, she crumples up Susan's owl and gets in trouble.
    • In Ramona's World, Ramona talks to her mom about why she doesn't like Susan, one of the reasons being that Susan gets really mad when boys call her "Snoozin' Susan." Ramona comments, "When boys call you a name, you're just supposed to get a little bit mad and not go telling the teacher."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Derry Girls:
    • After they're falsely accused of bullying, Claire tells the others to stick together and say nothing, because they have no proof. Gilligan Cut to her blaming the others and saying that she's innocent, to which Sister Michael replies:
    Sister Michael: I think it's safe to say we all lost a little respect for you there, Claire.
    • Another episode has Jenny Joyce, the Academic Alpha Bitch ratting the protagonists out when they prepare to sneak out during a school trip. Sister Michael again remarks that Jenny will go far in life "but you will not be well liked."
  • El internado: Las Cumbres: Students at Las Cumbres Boarding School are punished after throwing a wild party by being forced to stand at attention for hours under the rain until somebody confesses. Adèle breaks down under pressure and gives up a name. The next day, she finds fish in her cereal bowl, graffiti on her locker and feces inside.
  • Sesame Street: In one episode, Big Bird wants to join the "Good Birds Club", but its leader bullies him by making fun of his voice and appearance, and while the other members of the club don't actively bully him, they agree with the leader when he asks if Big Bird looks/sounds bad. Elmo witnesses this and wants to dob the club leader in, but he fears being labelled a tattletale.
  • Ethel Hallow in the 1998 version of The Worst Witch is frequently tattling on Mildred and her friends, with the specific hope they'll be expelled. The episode "A Pig in a Poke" opens with Ethel snitching that they're playing blind man's bluff in the Great Hall, and Miss Cackle punishes them by making them help Mr Blossom tidy the room for the cat presentation. She then coldly tells Ethel and Drucilla they're helping as well, "since you're feeling so public spirited."

    Music 
  • In the kids' song "Don't Tattle", the singer tells the listeners not to tattle, and that if they're not sure if they're tattling, to ask four questions, which are (paraphrased) "Do I need to tell the teacher now or can it wait?", "Is somebody either in danger, injured, or emotionally hurt?", "Is it my business?", and "Am I trying to help or hurt?".

    Western Animation 
  • This was the plot for the Baby Looney Tunes episode "The Tattletale", where Lola kept telling Granny when the other kids were doing something "bad". Lola had good intentions, but she kept doing it so often that the others refused to play with her, since it looked like all she was trying to do was get them all in trouble. Eventually, Granny teaches Lola it's one thing to let her know if any of the kids are doing something dangerous or mean, but being a tattletale is another.
  • Bluey: In "Swim School", this is the moral of the episode. Bandit tells Bluey not to "dob" on others unless it's important, so Bluey pretends to be a swim instructor named Karen who has a policy against ratting on people. Later, she pretends to be a woman named Margaret who encourages Bandit, Bluey and Chilli to rat on each other. Bingo, however, decides she'd rather not snitch on her family, and Bluey becomes Karen again.
  • Bobby's World: In "The Smell of a Tattletale", Bobby starts carpooling with the mothers of his classmates. When he tells them the wrong things the other kids are doing, they are so impressed that make him the official carpool monitor. This results in his classmates turning against him. When Bobby explains the situation to Uncle Ted, he comes to the conclusion that he's a tattletale. When Bobby is invited to Rodney's birthday party at their mothers' insistence, he learns the right and wrong times to tell the adults if someone is doing something wrong, such as when he catches two of his classmates playing with knives.
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Mission Impos-slug-ble", Louise and Rudy swap Burobu cards during a study session. Ms. Labonz comes in and asks Tina where all the fourth graders are. Tina tries not to tell her, but eventually spills the beans. Ms. Labonz confiscates their cards and Louise spends most of the episode angry at Tina for spilling the beans.
  • Bravestarr: Played for Drama in the Drugs Are Bad episode "The Price". A drug dealer tries to hook two local boys, Brad and Jay. Brad doesn't like Dealer and is suspicious of the effect he's having on Jay, but he doesn't want to tell on his friend. Jay exploits this by calling him a "snitch" as his condition worsens. Shaman ultimately talks Brad around to the position that sometimes, one needs to spill a secret. However, by the time Bravestarr tracks Jay down, based on Brad's testimony, he's already taken the fatal dose. Dealer asks sarcastically if Brad's happy about telling on him to the law and Brad strangles out a reply that the only thing he regrets is not overcoming his reluctance sooner, before breaking down into Bravestarr's chest.
  • Family Guy: In the very first episode, a Cutaway Gag parodying The Brady Bunch shows Jan being punished for tattling on Greg by being forced to jump into "the pit of eternal fire" by her father.
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Full Moon" Arnold witnesses some classmates moon Principle Wartz as a prank. They get away before Wartz can recognize them, so the principle tries to get Arnold to spill, but Arnold refuses to be a snitch. Wartz tells Arnold a story about how he saw his classmates prank a teacher, and unlike Arnold, "sung like a canary". It's supposed to be a lesson on how you're supposed to do the right thing no matter what others think of you, but Wartz goes into a bit too much detail on how his tattling destroyed his social life for years. Needless to say, Arnold wasn't impressed.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Subverted in "One Bad Apple", when Babs sarcastically asks the Cutie Mark Crusaders if they're snitches when they threaten to tell Applejack about the way she's treated them. As such, the CMC decide they have to take matters into their own hooves. At the end of the episode, though, Applejack tells them that a lot of anguish could have been avoided had they come to her first.
  • Recess: In "Tattletale Heart", a food fight breaks out in the cafeteria. Miss Finster forces the kids to waste their recess time cleaning it up and tries to figure out who started it. Gus actually saw the perpetrator, but is discouraged by everyone, including Guru Kid, into staying quiet, less he be labeled a snitch. And then the episode climaxes with everyone except Gus snitching, and Gretchen musing that sometimes it is okay to tell.
  • Sheriff Callie's Wild West: In "Toby Braves the Bully", Bradley keeps messing with Toby's newspapers. Toby says he'll report him to Sheriff Callie and Bradley retorts that if he does, that'll make him a tattletale. Toby decides against telling Callie at first, but she later tells him that she won't be able to help if she doesn't know what's been going on. She then sings about how he's not a tattletale if he's telling on Bradley to protect himself.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In the episode "Bart the General," Homer is horrified when Marge says Bart should go to the Principal about being bullied by Nelson because he'd be violating the "Code of the Schoolyard," the first rule of which is, "Don't tattle."
    • In "Bart Sells His Soul", Rev. Lovejoy is after the one who pranked the church by tricking the congregation into singing "Ina Gadda Da Vidda", warning that lying leads to eternal damnation. A frightened Milhouse says it was Bart, so Lovejoy punishes Bart by cleaning the church organ... and has Milhouse join him for snitching.
  • The Smurfs (1981): In "Tattle-Tail Smurfs", Brainy is frustrated with the Smurflings' constant snitching, so he casts Papa Smurf's tattletale spell to make the Smurflings' tails grow every time they rat on each other. Their tails end up becoming very long.
  • South Park:
    • In "Tonsil Trouble", Cartman has infected Kyle with AIDS for laughing at him, so Kyle tells Principal Victoria about this. However, she and Mr. Mackey expect Kyle to apologize too for telling on him, and Mr. Mackey quotes this trope almost verbatim. Kyle refuses to apologize, pointing out that what Cartman did was much worse.
    • Exaggerated in the episode "Butterballs", where every kind of potential recourse Butters could take to deal with a bully (including telling, telling anonymously and even fighting back) all carry some kind of derogatory nickname among the students.
      Stan: That's the third day in a row. You gotta tell the teacher.
      Butters: Naw, I'm not a tattle-tale.
      Stan: Well, then write the principal an anonymous letter.
      Butters: Naw, I'm not no Anonymous Andy.
      Craig: So then just get a bigger bully to beat the bully up.
      Butters: Naw, I don't want kids calling me a Cliche Conflict Resolution Kevin.
      Cartman: He has a point.
      Kyle: Well, then you gotta ride it out, Butters.
  • Thomas & Friends: In "Diesel Does it Again", Devious Diesel is brought to Brendam Docks to help Duck and Percy out with the extra work. However, given Diesel's reputation as a troublemaker, Duck and Percy are naturally wary of him. At one point, Diesel bumps into a line of trucks so hard that he spills their loads all over the dockyard. When Percy and Duck see this, they say they know Sir Topham Hatt won't like it. Diesel overhears them and asks them, "So who's going to tell him, I wonder? Two goody-goody tattletales like you, I suppose?" Not wanting to be called tattletales, Percy and Duck say nothing.
 
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Tattling Will Make It Worse

When Russell suggests Moon should tell Judy and Ham about Debbie wanting to beat him up, Moon said he's not going to tattle and Henry agrees because he points out the more people who knows about it, the worse it will get.

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