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What Secrets Should You Tell Your Kids?

Telling All
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Illustration by Ellen Weinstein

Every parent has to choose what to share with kids and what to withhold, but there are guidelines to assist you in the decision making.

Does my child have a right to know?

It depends. Facts related to your child's genetic makeup—for example, if she's adopted, was conceived with a donor egg or sperm, or is at risk for serious inherited conditions—need to be revealed because they could directly affect her health. Similarly, information concerning safety should be aired. If there's a relative who's not safe to be alone with, for example, she needs to know why. A teen should also be informed about family financial problems, especially if the truth will help her understand why you're steering her toward community college, cutting back on the sports lessons or complaining about her cell phone bill.

Is she likely to find out anyway?

When too many people already know, or evidence will be difficult to hide, the decision shouldn't be difficult to make. If you're divorced because your ex-husband had an affair and the entire neighborhood found out, that's probably something your child should hear from you and your ex. And anything ongoing, like a cancer diagnosis that will mean obvious changes to your health, mood and availability, should be disclosed.

Can he handle the information?

Maybe your 13-year-old son would be troubled or angry if he knew your first husband was physically abusive, in which case you may decide to stay silent. On the other hand, if he's figuring out his own personal ethics and is looking for feedback about bullying, this could be a good opportunity to share your personal perspective, provided you discuss it calmly and reveal only as much as is appropriate for his level of maturity.