Teaching the difference between privacy and secrecy can improve parent-child relationships

Teaching the difference between privacy and secrecy can improve parent-child relationships

Great relationships are built on trust — just think about who you choose as a confidant or list as an emergency contact.

Trust involves feeling safe to share anything with someone without fear of painful consequences. Most of us can think of very few people with whom we feel that way, yet parents and primary caregivers ideally want their children’s trust. Trust can help keep children safe and strengthen relationships with parents and others raising children.

A vital step is understanding, teaching and respecting the difference between privacy and secrecy.

What’s the difference between privacy and secrecy?

Secrets are knowledge someone feels they cannot share. ‘Good’ secrets might be about a nice surprise for someone, like a special visitor or gift. Good secrets are time-limited — they’re not kept forever. But children should not be asked to keep any other kind of secret, and it’s important they know to tell a trusted adult if they are told to “just keep this between us.”

Privacy, meanwhile, means that a child can do something on their own, without observation, but with the caregiver’s knowledge. We want children to learn that as they grow, we will respect their privacy more and more as they earn our trust. We also want our children to trust us enough that if something uncomfortable happens in a private experience, they tell us.

Knowing the difference between privacy and secrecy is key in preventing child sexual abuse. Predators often start a relationship with a child that seems fun and innocent, but gradually becomes sexualized. Similarly, teens may date someone who pressures them for sex.

How can I teach my kids to not keep secrets?

Develop family rules about secret-keeping, with a clear definition of a “good” secret.

Consider a family rule that a child can spend private time with people, but what happens can’t be secret. Of course, the amount of detail we have a right to expect decreases as our child gets older.

We want children to learn that as they grow, we will respect their privacy more and more as they earn our trust. Getty Images (custom credit)

Discuss why kids should tell a trusted adult about other secrets, even if they’re worried about the reaction. Too often children — and adults — keep damaging secrets out of fear, guilt or shame.

One way to ensure that your child doesn’t feel the need for secrecy is to let them help set boundaries for how you will react if they share a secret. For instance, you could agree to first respond to a request of any kind by offering immediate help and refrain from sharing your own opinion (or launching into a lecture) for at least 12 hours.

For example: Your teenager is at a party that got out of hand, and they call you for a ride home. If you start to lecture on the ride home, the teen may invoke the 12-hour rule. You’ll have to sleep on it overnight, but your child will be safe and you will be able to broach the topic with a clear head in the morning.

When can children have privacy?

When our children understand that they don’t need to hide things from us, they can start to earn the right to privacy. We can explain to our kids, “Privacy means you get to do something by yourself; secrecy means no one knows about it.” With younger kids, toileting provides a great analogy. “When Mommy knows you’re big enough to get on and off the toilet and clean yourself, you can go to the bathroom by yourself, with privacy. But if something hurts or doesn’t feel right, I trust that you’ll tell me. If something is wrong, we don’t keep it secret.”

With older kids, peer sleepovers provide a good example: “I will give you privacy and uninterrupted time with your friends because I trust you and know you respect our family rules, including not keeping a secret if something goes wrong.”

And the great thing is, the stronger the trust between family members, the fewer secrets there will be and the happier and more fulfilling their relationship will be as the child grows up.

Janet Rosenzweig is the author of “The Sex-Wise Parent” and “The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.” Follow her on Twitter at @JanetRosenzweig.



This post first appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer at this link:  https://www.inquirer.com/news/privacy-secrecy-children-adults-trust-20220914.html

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