“If she only knew,” thought Jill.
Jill recently caught her teenage daughter experimenting with drugs. At 16, Beth was a sophomore and had little history of trouble in school or otherwise. Jill worried her innocent daughter was headed down the same path she took at 17 – a trajectory that went downhill fast. As she talked to Beth about the choices before her, Jill wondered if she should share her past drug experiences with Beth.
As of that point, Beth had no idea that her mom had a history of drug use. Jill was convinced that revealing those skeletons would be too shocking and harmful. She was also fearful that it would encourage her daughter to try the same things.
Now, she wasn’t so sure...
Talk or Stay Silent?
Many parents walk in Jill’s footsteps. They withhold information from their kids in an effort to protect them. But here's the problem; staying silent usually has the opposite effect. Teens aren’t as oblivious as we often think they are. They can sense when information is being withheld. Rather than shield them from the truth, parents can trust that they are capable of handling the real family stories. Maturity levels differ among teens, but it’s likely that the truth will provide better lessons than lies.
Take, for example, Jill’s history of substance abuse. It will be hard for Jill to admit her past to her daughter, but Beth might be more likely to listen to Jill’s advice once she realizes her mom knows what she’s talking about.
Parents don’t want to look anything less than perfect in their teens’ eyes, but revealing a crack in that armor just might provide the best protection.
It’s Not Contagious
Like Jill, parents often hesitate to share what’s really going on or what happened in the past because they fear it will cause their teen to struggle with the same issues. Keep in mind, issues of substance abuse, depression, and suicide aren't contagious. Treating them as issues your child could “catch” or as sources of shame only piles on additional problems. Instead, talk about them openly and honestly. This dialogue can actually help prevent future substance abuse.
When these issues exist in the family and parents try to cover them up, teens suffer. They struggle with feelings of confusion, fear, and uncertainty. When the truth is stumbled upon, then they have to deal with feelings of betrayal. Getting everything out in the open is the healthy solution. It offers great teaching moments, models honesty, and removes the haze of confusion otherwise present.
If there's criminal activity in the family, substance abuse, or pasts tainted with less-than-perfect choices, let them know. If you try to bury the information, you may hurt your teen more than the news ever could. They may discover the truth in a manner worse than if you had explained it to them yourself. Or they may miss out on valuable lessons learned from other family members’ actions.
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