One of the rules we have in our family is this: “Children should never keep secrets from Papa and Mama.” Our kids are aware of it as we've been telling them about it ever since they first started to comprehend the concept of ‘rules’ and ‘secrets.’
Still, as they grew older and started playing more with other children, their cousins included, my husband and I discovered that there are times when they would be tempted to keep secrets from us. Thankfully, these were just ‘silly’ or ‘trivial’ secrets — nothing much to be alarmed about.
However, there may be parents out there who have children who keep secrets — big and small — from them all the time. What can they do to prevent this from happening? And when is it actually OK for our children to keep secrets from us?
We asked two experts for advice and here's what they have to say:
Why kids keep secrets from us Chris Carandang, a psychologist working at MLAC Psychosocial Services for Well-Being, a lecturer at the Psychology Department of the University of the Philippines Diliman, and board member of the Philippine Association for Child and Play Therapy or Philplay, says children may keep secrets for any of the following reasons:
1. “They are afraid that their parents will scold them. This fear is even more intense when the way that their parents scold them is harsh, verbally or physically.
2. “They feel that their parents do not take the time to listen to them and understand them. Parents should be aware of their tendency to have one-sided conversations with their kids. Does it always end up with them giving long lectures and sermons? This can lead their child to ‘tune out’ to what they are saying. It is helpful to keep their talks short but clear and not repetitive.
3. “They feel that their parents might tell other people about what they tell them. Parents need to recognize that their kids, especially adolescents, need their privacy too. Respect this privacy. Rather than thinking that it is a child's obligation to share everything with their parents, they should also recognize that it is also a privilege whenever their children choose to share things with their parents. This means that you have developed a relationship with mutual trust. Take care of this trust.”
On a similar note, Josefina “Nina” Quintos Era, a college professor at Miriam College and University of the East, family specialist and parenting expert, and a mom herself to Kristia Ysabel, 17, and Raphael, 15, says that children usually keep secrets from their parents because they “fear that their parents might not understand them.” Also, they may not have a close relationship with their parents, to begin with. Era adds that parents “overnagging” their kids to tell them all about their lives may actually drive them to do the opposite.
Is keeping secrets ever a good thing?
The answer to this would be, “Yes and no.” It depends on how you look at it.
For Carandang, keeping secrets is not necessarily a bad thing. He explains, “I have met kids and teens who would like to share their secrets with their parents but since their parents do not seem to understand them and listen to them, or break their trust, it is better for them to keep their secrets to themselves. Everyone, including kids and teens, need their privacy, too.”
Era, on the other hand, thinks otherwise. “Keeping secrets from parents is not a good thing because there is the presumption that children are keeping secrets from their parents because of fear. And this means that children do not have confidence in their parents’ unconditional love,” she says.