Today’s guest is Social worker Michelle Fletcher, with a very important topic for every parent. What sort of secrets we can keep with our kids? How do we teach them about safe and unsafe secrets?
Secrets are, at the most basic level, information. That information can be good or bad, safe or unsafe. Whether we tell a secret or hold it, there’s a cost to us, and an internal conflict. Asking a child to understand and deal with that conflict is a big thing. It’s our job to help children recognise what secrets are safe to tell, and which people they can trust.
Show Notes – Safe and Unsafe Secrets
- Secrets come in all different types and levels of seriousness. There are benign, surprise, frivolous secrets, such as birthday parties, or the existence of the tooth fairy. Then there are secrets of omission – don’t tell mum we ate all those chocolates. Plus, there are big secrets, a parent’s diagnosis of cancer. Young children can’t hold bigger secrets such as these alone.
- Teach kids about appropriate secret keeping. What are confidential conversations vs secrets? Kids should never feel like a secrets is a burden for them. If information feels too heavy for them to carry that should be a warning sign for them that they need to tell someone. When the inner conflict builds up sometimes we let it spill. That can lead to all kinds of conflicting emotions for a child.
- Children need to know who their “trusted adults” are, who they can safely tell secrets to, and what kind of secrets they should never hold.
For little kids:
- Michelle cites that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys under 18 are sexually abused. [JB notes: Those are figures from old research. More recent figures indicate the rate is more like 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 10 men.] Often these children are told to “keep it a secret”.
- Teach kids that their body is private and to be protected. Help them know what feels right and wrong.
- Use the correct anatomical names for body parts: “he touched my fluffy” allows wriggle room for courts when prosecuting child sex offenders.
- Never force kids to kiss strangers.
- Always believe kids when they tell you sexualised secrets, or exhibit sexualised behaviour. Little kids don’t naturally know about sexual acts unless they have been exposed to them.
Take notice of sexualised play that seems unusual and seek professional advice if you are unsure. This resource is a great one for parents wanting to know what behaviour is normal and what’s an indicator of something serious.
- Teenagers secrets are often much more serious, or potentially dangerous. Be mindful of not embarrassing them. Maintain your relationship with them, and be mindful of creating an open atmosphere to talk about whatever they need to share, without judgement.
- Some secrets teenagers keep are too big for them, but often they don’t have the resources to know how that it’s safe to share. Rape, self-harm and suicide all affect teenagers. These secrets can be life-threatening and can compromise your teens physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
- Remember to respect their privacy and growing autonomy. Learn what secrets you DO need to know and discuss with your teen, and know when to step in and do so with love and compassion, knowing that they might fight back. Most kids desperately want their parents to know what’s going on and to help them through it, just don’t embarrass them.
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