I have a friend (I’ll call her Janie) who is very outgoing and talkative.
When she was in high school, she told her mom everything. She opened up and shared her heart like every mother hopes and dreams her daughter will.
Things changed, however, when Janie was in 11th grade and overhead her mom talking on the phone one day to a friend. Her mom told this friend how she was afraid Janie might follow her boyfriend to college – but she hoped she wouldn’t because it’s not like they were going to get married.
In that moment, Janie felt violated. Hearing her mom discuss the private life details that she’d revealed in confidence totally blindsided her. That day, Janie says, was a game-changer in their relationship. Although she remained close to her mother and still loved her, she never opened up to the same degree again.
This story is a great illustration of why it’s increasingly important to protect our kids’ privacy as they grow up. For one, it’s the right thing to do, and two, if they find out we’ve shared too much about them – especially in the teenage years – they’ll shut down on us. They’ll find someone else to be their safe place and sounding board.
As a writer, I realized years ago that some stories are mine to share and some stories aren’t. My daughters have walked through trials and struggles that I know would make great articles, help a lot of parents, and possibly go viral, but I decided early on that my main focus would be what I’m learning as a mother and a person.
Even when my girls were small and had no clue of what I wrote, I tried to be mindful of not sharing anything that might embarrass them one day or lead to resentment. I’d never want them to see a story in the public domain that they’d not given me permission to share.
It hurts our relationship with our teenagers and our children when we share too much about them. It also opens the door for payback – because one day, our kids will be the adults sharing stories about their lives. They’ll have a voice, an audience, and the ability to publicly talk about us. I think about this as I see parents broadcast stories on social media that aren’t really their stories to tell. If we want our kids to respect us, we have to respect them too.
The dilemma for parents of teenagers is that we desperately need advice and guidance. There is a lot at stake as our kids make choices with long-term consequences and enter environments that often undermine the values we teach at home. Sadly, today’s teenagers are being shaped by a dark and toxic culture, and we see that cultural impact in the epidemic levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide. As parents, we need help and community, yet we often feel alone because we can’t open up to just anyone.
This stage is different than raising little kids, because back then, we could go to a playgroup or the gym and easily find advice on potty training, sleeping, and toddlers jumping out of their crib. But with teenagers, the questions and issues magnify, and the diversity in parenting styles widens. We can’t ask randomly for advice because we need parents we trust who share our values, since it’s out of those values that decisions are made.
Author Rachel Anne Ridge wrote a fantastic article years ago titled, Dear Lonely Mom of Older Kids that explores the dilemma of this season. She said:
“I’ve noticed a conspicuous absence of mom-bloggers with older kids. A whole let less sharing and swapping of kid stories. Almost no teenage birthday party ideas on Pinterest. Mom conferences that seem to focus on young families. The online world just sort of goes quiet for the moms of pre-teens, teenagers and young adults. Except for the scary stories of kids and families gone wrong. It’s not real comforting.
So much of it….you just can’t talk about. Because you suddenly realize that these kids are people. People with feelings and emotions. And you can’t go around blogging about their mean math teacher or their failed attempt at choir auditions. These are things that are too precious, too priceless, too soul-baring, too hard to share. They need you to be their safe place. They need you to keep their secrets. They need you to pick up pimple concealer at CVS and not breathe a word to anyone. They are so easily embarrassed and you must do your part to help them get through it.”
Rachel Anne assures moms that they aren’t alone, and she tells them their years with older kids can be their best even if they have less photos to post on Facebook and no longer hear gushing comments over their adorableness. I agree, and I can say that despite the challenges of adolescence, I love my girls as teenagers more than I ever have before.
I’ve also made mistakes in protecting my teenagers’ privacy, even with good intentions. My daughter, for instance, once made a good decision in a tricky situation, and when I asked what helped her make that decision (secretly hoping that it might be advice I’d given her), she told me it was something her cousin once told her.
I thanked this cousin, and I forget about it until my daughter texted me three days later asking if I’d told anyone about her tricky situation. Apparently, this cousin – with good intentions – texted her extra encouragement, and my daughter felt betrayed that I didn’t keep that conversation between us. I had to apologize and regain her trust.
It takes prayer and intentional thinking to toe the line between protecting our teenager’s privacy and getting the support we need as parents. This job is too big to handle alone, and while we all need God, we also need small villages and trustworthy friends.
Unlike the huge villages that encircled us as young moms, the village shrinks with teenagers. As a mom ahead of me explained, you create your team and tighten your innermost circle, learning to confide in fewer people and advisors you trust. You build a small circle of consultants who you admire and respect, including some trained professionals – a pastor, spiritual advisor, or therapist – with a solid faith foundation.
As moms, we want our teenagers to open up, especially as they wrestle with problems. And since many teens today don’t have deep friendships and strong support systems to help cushion their painful events, having open dialogue with their parents could be a saving grace.
Protecting your teenager’s privacy builds trust and encourages dialogue. It doesn’t, however, guarantee that your child will spill their guts. While some teens are extroverts like my friend Janie and tell their moms everything because they can’t keep it in, others are introverts and tell their moms very little because they can’t get it out. More important than your teenager telling you everything is your teenager knowing they can tell you anything – feeling so secure in your love that they know they can come to you with problems, secrets, or struggles.
Even if you have many friends, parenting teenagers can get lonely. You can’t always open up like you did in the early years. One reason I wrote my new book for moms of teen girls is to give moms a springboard for conversation. It lets moms gather together in small groups to get the emotional support/advice they need while not sharing personal stories about their teenagers that might make them shut down.
When our teenagers open up to us it’s a privilege, and the opportunity may not come again if we break their trust. Our stories are ours to tell, and their stories are theirs, and one day, when they’re ready, they can share all they want. Until then, we can listen, empathize, and help them process life, taking in the details of their journey into adulthood – while also being mindful of what details we choose to share.
Thanks for reading this message. If you enjoyed it, please share it on social media or listen to it audibly on the Girl Mom podcast.
This Tuesday, Aug. 18, my new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter releases. It’s gaining fantastic early buzz, and by pre-ordering now, you can receive amazing incentives here. Order through Amazon or through Audible, where I read the book to you. What a privilege it’s been to narrate my first book for moms!
My two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, are used widely across the U.S. for group studies. For more posts, subscribe to this blog or join me on Facebook, Instagram and the Girl Mom podcast.
Posted by Kari on August 16, 2020