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    Why do adolescents keep secrets from parents?




    Imagine this: An 8-year old child is alone at home, and wants to spend time drawing. While rummaging through the drawers to find a pencil, the child finds a S$10 note. After a quick look around to ensure no one is watching, the child smoothly picks up the note, pockets it and gets back to routine.

    Is this stealing? Or is it helping oneself to something that is unclaimed?

    Children usually think in black or white in the growing up years. They are told that stealing is bad, they believe that lying is a sin, they are reminded that certain behaviour is acceptable and the rest is not.

    As children grow old, they not only learn to take care of themselves but they also learn to make their own judgements about many truths. So, on the one hand, they become responsible people by taking care of their physical cleanliness, doing their homework, packing their school bags and lunch boxes; on the other hand, they also start distinguishing between morality and values. The teachings of right and wrong – imbibed in them by their parents – become subjective, and are bent to suit the situation.

    That could be why the 8-year old would have pocketed the money without remorse, since it was not wrong to help oneself with what is lying around unclaimed. But there was also an element of guilt which made the same 8-year old look around to make sure no one was watching before doing so. The child knew it was wrong, but then again, was it? It belonged to no one, and the child found it. Finders, Keepers!

    But, this is just a small part of the entire pie. Growing children often hide information from their parents for reasons the parents can just not fathom. Thus parents may find their children switching handphone screens when they enter the room, or swearing to have eaten their lunch when actually they have thrown it in the school dustbin, or claiming to be right inside the house when in reality they were playing X-Box games at a friend’s home.

    secret3Parents, who try hard to mould their children with the right upbringing and values, find themselves at loss to understand such behaviour. Regardless of how much parents wish to nip it in the bud, such interactions filled with half-truths and blatant misinformation continue through the teenage years.

    Parents’ handling of these early incidents will set the tone for subsequent interactions on such matters. The issues which are most often kept secret could range from taking money from home without permission, being friends with children you do not approve of misreporting about homework, upcoming tests, marks and test papers.

    Here it is important to understand that slight digressions from perfect behaviour can be understandable in growing children. Up until age 9 or 10, they have been sharing every detail of their lives with their parents, and parents themselves have totally involved in their child’s life through interactions with other parents from the school or condos. But, as they become socially mature and find their footing in the world, children can be expected to falter – which in a way can give them more insight into their own selves, and allow them to self-correct.

    Helping themselves to money can just be a temptation for junk food which otherwise parents do not allow, fibbing about their whereabouts could be the need to hang out with their friends at coffee shops or malls, and hiding their grades could be a way to protect their ego which can be fragile when it comes to showing competence and mastery. Hiding marks or ‘forgetting’ to get back exam papers can just be a way of protecting oneself from the negative feeling of inferiority they may harbour. 

    Hence the need among children to screen and filter communication with parents and restrict it to strictly need-to-know basis.

    Thus, comes the big question before parents. How to fix this? Here are some suggestions:

    • First it is important to realise that adolescent children are individuals and need some space. They do not have to be an open book all the time.
    • Communication is the key. Parental communication need not feel like a confessional session – where all mistakes have to be reported, analysed, punished and learnt from.
    • Parents need to have a level head during such communication, and watch their tone and reactions. Emotional outbursts during heated moments need to be checked. For instance: calling the child a liar, thief, criminal, untrustworthy is unhelpful and will escalate the situation further. It could result in younger children losing self-esteem while older children clamming up the hurt inside. 
    • Time is a healer. It is prudent to allow hours or sometimes – days, pass by before bringing up the matter with the child. Practicing the communication before delivering it to the child will help. It is best to discuss the issue with your spouse so that together the parents can approach the matter reasonably.
      Such baby steps by parents will ultimately help them reach out to their child, and make the young ones understand that there are plenty of dualities and dichotomies in the world. But, once the adolescent knows how to tune their moral and ethical compass to these yins and yangs, there is absolutely no reason to worry about.

    (This column hopes that parents can benefit from using alternative approaches and find comfort in the fact that almost all parents of teenagers are going through the same trials and tribulations. Feel free to send in your comments, questions and observations at


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    GIIS Global Learning OCT 2018