“Let’s keep this a secret.” These words are poison.
One of my parenting fears that never goes away is sexual abuse—the lifelong pain that victims carry cannot be underestimated. I will do everything in my power to keep my child safe, but at the same time, I don’t want to be the parent who never lets my child out of my sight. I’ve had to adopt a few tools.
One of those tools is a rule about secrets.
If anyone—adult, child, teacher, coach, friend, relative, police officer, …anyone—ever asks my child to keep a secret, my child will tell me. Even if his mother asks him to keep a secret he will tell me. And he won’t be punished at all for telling, regardless of how harmless the secret was and how much telling me affects the teller or the activity. He’s not being a tattle-tale or hyper-sensitive.
This simple rule is for his protection, and it has worked.
Of course, this poses a problem when we buy gifts. “Don’t tell mom we’ve got her a new (insert great gift) for her birthday.” Obviously we want to keep the information from her until her special day, but until we do, it’s a surprise.
While adults navigate the semantics between ‘surprise’ and ‘secret’, my child is pretty clear. A surprise has a clear and reasonable date for when the surprise is over. If the scenario doesn’t have an end date—a birthday or any other clear moment in time when we will tell everyone being kept in the dark—it’s a secret. It doesn’t matter what the teller calls it. And secrets are wrong.
This simple rule is in place because thousands of kids are victims of sexual predators who use “secrets” to hold the kids captive in plain sight. This tactic may not be enough—predators are always thinking of ways to manipulate children—but it’s a start.
This has proven effective. The school counsellor asked my son to keep a secret from another child, and the first thing my son did was tell me. The secret was harmless; he was asked to help support a troubled boy, and the counsellor didn’t want to embarrass anyone. The fact that my son told me is pure parenting gold.
As a parent, being shared secrets means I am ready to hear things that are weird, silly, uncomfortable or even things that may ruin a special moment. That’s okay. So far, every secret shared has been innocent and harmless. So far.
One day my son will understand the value of a secret. One day, he won’t be at risk of predator adults.