“Sally pinched my elbow!” “Tommy took my crayon!” “Lily said a bad word!” Such are the endless complaints often heard in preschool and kindergarten classrooms across the globe. Ages 3, 4 and 5, child psychologists report, are tops for tattlers.

Iowa Public Radio featured a story recently about a day care that installed a “tattle-phone.” Tired of being besieged by 3- and 4-year-olds snitching on one another, the teacher installed a mocked-up phone. “Tell it to the phone,” she responded to tattlers.

When an IPR reporter heard of it, he requested that they install a recording device. Parents readily agreed and the resulting tattles were hilarious. Kids narced on one another nearly nonstop:

“Eli told a lie.”

“Nathan farted in my face and didn’t say he was sorry.”

“Ramon is not listening to my teacher and Mr. Evans is my favorite teacher.”

Other kids had little idea of the true nature of informing on one another and instead said things like, “Hi, Dad, I love you” and “I’m sorry, I have to hang up on you now” and “Do you know what we’re having for lunch today?”

As the parent of five who annually undertook 24 hours west to camp in Yellowstone and 15-hour drives to D.C. to visit relatives, I feel those teachers’ pain.

“Jason plugged into his headphones and won’t talk to me” would be followed by “Ribsy crossed the line on the seat,” “Andrew keeps sticking that troll doll in my face,” “Jamie crossed the line” and “Becky put carrots up my nose.”

It got so bad that my husband and I declared, “An invisible window just went up between our front seat and the rest of you. For the next 10 minutes, we can’t hear a word you’re saying.”

Yeah, paying them off with M&Ms didn’t work any better.

Eventually, we all grow up and move on to address annoying situations and take action to right the wrongs rather than tattling. We recognize these are minor injustices and just let it go. (Although, there might be a neighbor that will call police because of a rowdy teen party, rather than calling you.)

I have to wonder. What if adults had tattle-phones? There are people I’d definitely tattle on.

Consider adults who cross the street with little kids in tow but who fail to look both ways. While it might be nice here in Iowa to trust everyone will stop, there are a lot of dizzy daydreaming drivers out there.

I’m an equal opportunity tattler, however. I’d also snitch on drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians in walkways. If you’ve been to Dubuque grocery store parking lots, you know what I mean.

Too, I’d be tempted to tell the phone, “What’s with weather complainers? Don’t they know that other than cleaning up how they effect climate change, you can’t really do anything about the weather?“

What about those chronic “Unknown callers” who plague my cell? Can you rat on a robocall? I’d probably have to invent a robo tattle-phone to do the job.

When it comes to adults tattling, no one can hold a candle to Richard Steele. In 1709 he first published a journal that allegedly reported news and gossip heard in local British coffee houses. The paper’s goal was to “expos the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation.”

Steele mixed gossip with stories he created about locals. He rattled on giving advice on manners and politics. He tattled on drunks, women too stuck on their beauty and talentless actors.

The public ate it up. The journal’s immense popularity swelled beyond England and was picked up in Ireland and Scotland. Steele pinned the blame for tattling on Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., his fictional persona.

The name of that journal? The Tatler.

Fischer is professor of English Emerita at Clarke University. Email her at katherine.fischer@clarke.edu.