More On “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

I loved Rachel’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” post last week. I’m sure it hit a nerve with many out there in MOC land. I mean, don’t we all have a few skeletons in the closet that we would rather not have discussed at Sunday night dinner? I suppose it’s inevitable, given the remarkable tendency of youth to act first and think later.

As usual, Rachel was on target. But since it’s such an important topic, I have a couple more thoughts that I wanted to throw into the mix, just to keep you thinking.

Here’s the deal: I, too, am a big fan of honesty and I agree that we owe it to our children (as well as our own personal integrity) to tell them the truth about serious issues that concern them. As Rachel mentioned, you don’t want your child finding out about half siblings or ex-spouses from anyone besides you. And family medical history, discussed when your child is old enough to understand it without becoming unnecessarily frightened by it is, as she said, also important.

But just between you and me, I’m also a big fan of “None of your business!” As children get into the school-age years and beyond, they become fascinated about what you were like as a kid. Quizzing you on your past can become their favorite sport, especially when their questions might yield some juicy dirt on you or their father. But the benefits of all that honesty may be questionable if you were arm wrestled into spilling your guts before you felt that you were ready to go there.

Most importantly, don’t feel compelled to bare your soul and air your laundry just because they ask you to. In every healthy family a hierarchy exists with the parents at the top — hopefully, that is. A boundary is there to separate you from them and it exists for an important reason. You and your children are not peers and you are not meant to be friends. It’s just that simple.

You have the right to decide when and if you want to share information about your personal life – past or present. If you feel they are old enough to receive it in such a way that it will help them with their own life, then fine. It can serve a powerful purpose. If, on the other hand, it doesn’t have anything to do with them, sharing it serves no real purpose, or you simply feel uncomfortable talking about it with them, then you would be wise to keep your mouth shut.

I have found that a simple, “I’m really not comfortable sharing that information with you now. Why do you want to know?” helps clarify that while my business is private I am open and available to talk to them about whatever is on their minds. If they persevere, you can be a little more direct and counter with, “This is really none of your business, honey. When you are older I may choose to have this conversation with you, but not now.”

Children need to learn that they do not have control over you and that they do not get to dictate what information is shared with them.

Another thing to keep in mind is that those nosy questions about sex, drugs and alcohol can provide the perfect segue into a less personal but still powerful conversation that deters them from throwing caution to the wind. A great approach is to answer their questions about YOU as described above, but then add, “Did I ever tell you what happened to a good friend of mine…?”

At that point, you will have their full attention and can use the opportunity to relate the scary, tragic story of your high school friend who was killed by a drunk driver, or went into a drug-induced psychosis while experimenting with drugs in middle school or had a roofie slipped into her drink at a college party and narrowly escaped being raped.

These are all true stories that happened to kids I knew while growing up. Being able to share them with my own kids when the time was right proved invaluable in getting them to consider the consequences of risky behavior without giving them a dry, boring lecture. We all know some of these stories and can use them effectively, when appropriate, to get our kids thinking in a way they might not otherwise.

So that’s it for me. Hope our two takes on the issue of disclosure gave you some ideas on how to navigate this minefield. Please feel free to add your own ideas here. We would love to hear them.





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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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