As parents we often talk about things in front of our child that we assume they don’t understand. This can become quite a habit. Once our kids reach their tween years, this little habit can become a real problem. It is not uncommon for parents to underestimate just how much their children understand.
During the tween years individual development can vary greatly from child to child. Areas of development within a child also grow at different rates. Over the last few decades there has been criticism about the seemingly rigid stage development proposed by the father of cognitive psychology Jean Piaget. Piaget insisted that cognitive competencies developed in a specific sequence. Talk with a group a tweens however, and it quickly becomes obvious that development from child to child is uneven at best. While one child may possess the ability to demonstrate abstract reasoning and even insight in one area, he may lack the ability to demonstrate other cognitive skills such as deductive reasoning.
So then, how does this all relate to keeping secrets? The tween years are marked by a heightened sensitivity to both an individual’s inner and outside worlds. Tweens begin to show more interest in the world around them. As their grasp of how the world works widens, so does their desire to engage in activities outside their home base.
Tweens however, are very much reliant on their home environments. They depend on their parents to provide much needed support and guidance. As they grow into teens they will turn their focus to friends and other important people in their lives for some of this support such as teachers and coaches. This is in part why tweens tend to be very sensitive to changes in their home environments. Their newfound awareness makes them more vigilant. If there is unrest or tension at home, tweens tend to feel it. While they might not fully understand what is going on, they are affected by any stress or unrest their parents are experiencing. Put simply, secrets are not well kept from tweens. In fact, because they are naturally egocentric, when tweens cannot clearly identify the source of distress, they may put the blame on themselves. It is here that we see how remnants of magical thinking can really cause tweens to feel constantly at fault. If for example, parents are experiencing marital difficulties or openly talking divorce, it is not uncommon for a tween to assign self-blame.
If there is financial stress, or an older sibling is causing concern, tweens are quick to feel the tension. This can be particularly destructive to tween self-esteem when parents are not forthcoming with what is really going on.
So much of parenting is about appropriately managing information. Parents must learn to strike the balance between telling their kids the truth, and shielding them from the impact of concerns and tensions. Tweens feel everything. They are so sensitive to shifts experienced on the home front. This is why secrets are not easily kept from them.
Parents are best served keeping their tweens in the loop. This must be done however, using the proper amount of caution and concern. Offering too much information can result in unneeded stress and anxiety. The art is to calmly and carefully clue your tween in by providing appropriate information. If for example, your husband is having an affair with your bff, offering this information to your tween can be detrimental. Explaining that you and your spouse however, are working on some issues together can be helpful. Your tween after all probably already senses the tension. Even parents with the best intentions have difficulty keeping all their negative thoughts and feelings from their kids. Acknowledging that difficulties exist is often a relief to a tween who has already sensed that all is not well on the home front. This does not mean however, that parents should always share all their secrets. The point is simply that your tweens may be far more cognizant of the secrets you are keeping than you realize. It is also important to realize that your kids do not live in a vacuum. Nothing is more difficult and scary for a child for example, than learning some devastating news from a friend who overheard his own parents talking. Tweens today are also often quite social media savvy. With just a few keystrokes they can quickly sleuth the information they seek.
Parents keep all sorts of secrets to protect their children. Too often amidst a family crisis such as an illness however, already stretched and exhausted parents, underestimate the perceptions and insights of their children. It is better for your tween to hear the big news from you than a mutated version of the truth from an alternative less reliable source.