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What To Do When Your Teen Is Keeping Secrets

Here are tips on how to get your child to open up and talk to you

We are often shocked when we discover that our teenager is keeping secrets from us. We find ourselves questioning the bond of trust that we have tried so hard to build with her over the years. While it can be frustrating and heartbreaking, it’s good to remember that we were once teenagers, and keeping secrets from our parents is perfectly normal and part of growing up. 

Psychologists claim that keeping secrets develops in early childhood when the child is beginning to learn about the benefits and consequences of their actions. Noemi Marasigan, Educhild parent advocate and mom to five teenagers, shares, “It is during the formative years that a child learns the concept of secret-keeping. When our child is at this stage, we have to watch how we react to whatever our child does. If we often get disappointed with them for even the simplest things, they will learn to hide the actions that they think will only anger us. But if they see that we can be accepting of their actions, whether good or bad, they will become more open.”

The desire to take charge of their own affairs and to become less dependent on adults is another reason why teenagers opt to withhold information from their parents. While we cannot tell our teenagers upfront to confess their secrets, there are many ways by which we can make them talk without getting accused of stepping over their boundaries. Here are some of them: 

Wait for them to come to you

Teenagers will only talk when they are ready. The more you push them to talk, the more likely they will keep mum on an issue. If you have discovered a secret that they have been trying to hide from you, fight the urge to confront them with it, unless it is dangerous and life-threatening. Otherwise, you will not be the first to know something significant that happened to them the next time. 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Find the right timing

Timing is everything. Allow them to unwind first after a long day before engaging them in a conversation. Catch them when they are already relaxed and in a good mood to talk. You will only get the silent treatment is you insist on talking to your teenager when she is tired or hungry. 

Show interest without appearing too nosy

Teens are so attuned to our feelings, so they can easily sense when we are out to wrestle a secret or truth out of them. Says Sheila Neukom, mom to Bel, 16, and Nina, 17, “I usually take advantage of our drive home from school since this is when they become chatty. I find that it is best to talk less and listen more when your teenagers start telling you things. They tend to freely share ‘classified information’ when I do not interrupt and ask too many personal questions.”

Just be there 

Teens like their parents to be around. What they do not like is a helicopter mom who keeps hovering around them. Keep your distance and respect their space. If they want to talk to their friends more than you, do not make a big fuss about it. Instead, let them know that you are available in case they need an extra pair of ears to listen. 

Listen without correcting or judging 

When your teen comes to you with a secret, try not to under or over react. Nobody wants to talk to a parent who does not seem to care or who has a tendency to freak out. It takes a lot for a teen to come forward, so take time to hear them out. And remember, they come not to be judged but to be understood. 

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Keep their secret a secret 

While it is amusing to learn about the embarrassing moment that happened or the boys that interests them, it is good to remember that teens take this whole secret-keeping thing seriously. They won’t like it if you share their secret with someone, however good your intentions are. 

What to do when... 

Your teen demands to be left alone: Allow her to have some “me” time so she will learn to figure things out on her own. This is how she will mature and grow. 

Your teen starts to pursue her own interests and passion: Let her explore and engage in different activities provided that they are not harmful. This is how she will discover more about herself. 

Your teen desires to be with friends:  Let your teens enjoy the company of girls or boys their age. This is how they will learn to handle conflicts and build relationships. 

Your teen wants to decide for herself: Let her make her own choices. Allow her to find solutions to her dilemmas. This is how she will learn responsibility and to develop confidence and a strong sense of self. 

This article was originally published in Working Mom August 2015 issue.