Monday, March 15, 2010

I Promise Not Tell

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I want to take a poll.

First question: How many times have you heard, “I promise not to tell.”?

Next question: How many times has the person who promised not to tell TOLD?

For many people, keeping something private from others is impossible to do. It’s not to say that the Secret Sharer is bad a person. More times than not, the person who violates your trust is a well-meaning friend or family member who supports you in many ways.

But for whatever reason, they have a hard, hard time keeping quiet.

I’m talking about adults. Here’s something to consider…if adults have so much trouble—adults who love and support you—then wouldn’t you think a teenager might find it even more challenging?

I talk a lot to girls about this very topic. The betrayal stories I have heard and read about push me to have this conversation regularly with teens.

Now you might be wondering if I advise them to keep all their secrets bottled up inside? No, I don’t. But I do ask them to tread carefully and to be mindful of what they tell to others in their lives.

Bottom line: Friends and family members earn the right to be told your secrets. This means that as you build a relationship with someone, you share bits and pieces of your private self in increments. It’s a natural way for a friendship to unfold. It’s after you begin to share personal information with someone that you need to be an observer. I tell girls to pay attention to how the information is handled.

It reminds me of the game of tennis. Hit a ball past me and down my alley (the side of the court), I pay attention. Do it again and I start thinking about the old idiom: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

In my own life, I take careful notes about who keeps my personal information confidential. And sometimes it really isn’t about how much they love you or respect you, but their maturity level. Not everyone can keep a secret. Recall your own experiences when you wanted so badly to share some information you had, but had been asked not to. It’s challenging, is it not?

You’ll now find me repeatedly telling teenagers to be careful. Mostly this talk goes along with my Internet and Cell Phone presentation to teens. In that workshop we spend time talking about public communication. What many of them might not have thought about is that ANY private communication with someone via email and cell phone could, with a push of a button, become instantly public.

To help them avoid embarrassment or harassment, I encourage them to not write or text anything that they wouldn’t want posted on the classroom bulletin board. If they feel compelled to criticize someone, I encourage them to do it in code. Of course, in an ideal world we’d rather they not criticize anyone at all, but we know how difficult that is for us—let alone them—to do.

This is a topic that I continually talk about with my daughter and other teens. Of course, just because I’m talking about it doesn’t mean the message will be heard. Yes, many times it takes learning something the hard way before a point can be absorbed. When your child is betrayed, which WILL eventually happen (if it hasn’t already), help them process and forgive. But more importantly, remind them to be careful when sharing information or personal secrets with friends or family.

Allyn Evans
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