While almost all teenagers will have some things that they keep to themselves, there is a big difference between harmless secrets and something more disconcerting. As parents, it is our job to make sure that they know they can talk to us about anything and feel heard. That is not to say that we always have to agree. The nuance here is that we create a safe space where open communication can occur; sometimes that is in the form of validation, others in the form of teaching moments.
When it comes to secret keeping, there is a fine line between what is developmentally appropriate and what could be a behavioral issue.
What are the typical secrets that teenagers hold?
Teenagers are growing, learning, and finding their place in the world. And while they know where they fit at home and who they are at the kitchen table – outside might be a different story.
Here are some of the most common secrets teens keep:
- Skipping classes
- What they’re doing when they pretend to be at sleepovers
- Going to parties
- Gender identity and or sexual orientation
- Substance experimentation
- Political affiliations or beliefs
Most often, your teen will keep a secret if they believe that telling will get them in trouble or if things have gone too far and they don’t know what to do. For instances such as substance experimentation, it is important to keep the door open for conversations because that is the only way you will be able to assess where it falls on the continuum. There are many organizations both local and national such as the Palm Beach Institute that offer assistance.
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Preventing secret-keeping is an exercise in futility. Even if it were possible, some level of keeping secrets is normal and, in fact, is part of growing up in most cases. Here is the key – make sure that your child knows that some things fall in the category of privacy and others are secrecy – and that the latter can be shared with you.
Respect their privacy while allowing them to be open and come to you.
The moment you notice that there are changes in your child’s behavior is a good time to ask if they would like to talk. You might be met with a lot of resistance, which can indicate that there is something deeper going on. Pushing them to tell you might push them away further.
Rather than invade their privacy too soon, give them space to come to you. This can be a difficult time, but you can make them comfortable enough to come to you if you keep calm.
Fixating on secrecy by having emotional outbursts or being accusatory can cause you to lose time. Instead, focus on the relationship with your child by doing things one-on-one and as a family. Communication is of great importance here.
It is easy to fall into the control trap. When you feel yourself in the spinning place, take a breath and lean into your intuition. You know your child. Ask open-ended questions and let them know you are on their side.