Ssh, come a little closer… Can you keep a secret?
Or, come to think of it, can you keep other people’s secrets?
When was the last time that a friend told you something, in confidence, and you kept it entirely to yourself? Can you think of a time when you breathed not a word to anyone?
Secrets are a little bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, in terms of children and secrets, they can be both innocuous, such as “I broke the pen”, or malignant, such as “our little secret,” and all the horror that this may entail to the vigilant adult mind.
Subsequently, it’s a little tricky to teach your children when to tell and when not to. Secrets are a sensitive issue, because keeping secrets can be dangerous for our children, but it can also be the sign of a very good friend.
Think for a moment of a time when you have had to speak to someone about an issue that is causing you stress. This is usually highly personal stuff; finances, relationships, employment and so on. It’s all very well if you speak knowing that this is open information, but if you’ve imparted this in total confidence, and sworn a friend to secrecy, then the very least you expect is that it will go no further.
Think again of all the times you’ve sat and listened to somebody tell you about one of their friends, and that particular friend’s finances, relationships, or employment woes. Is that person somebody that you would class as a ‘good’ friend, or merely a person who thrives from the thrill of spilling secrets that translate as cheap gossip? Because it’s one thing keeping our own secrets, for self-preservation, but it suddenly seems less crucial when it involves someone else’s life or reputation.
Alternatively, perhaps you work in a sensitive environment that demands confidence and discreet behaviour, and so are adept are keeping confidences? Or maybe you pride yourself on an ability to keep schtum for your friends, allowing them to off-load on you when necessary, without fear of your spreading their life like verbal manure on the roots of gossipville.
It is a sensitive line to tread and an indistinct one to impart to our children, yet it is also surprisingly important. If they cannot be trustworthy and respectful and able to keep confidences, then they will not be good friends or citizens, yet, as parents, we feel a need to know what is afoot in their lives, whilst respecting their privacy. Not as easy as it sounds, as many a parent has discovered when faced with a diary or a mobile that their teenager has left lying around.
I suppose, at the end of the day, we need to teach our children to keep themselves, and their friends, safe. Anything that makes them scared, or worried, or uncomfortable, is the time to speak to a trustworthy adult. Modelling a culture at home that includes openness and non-judgmental attitudes will help… and, of course, resisting the peek in the diary to see who they fancy this week.
First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 6th October 2015