Do your kids need to know your dirty little secrets?

Imagine this: You’re brushing your hair, getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, and your teenager is chatting to you. He is telling you about some people he knows who are into the drug scene. You’ve talked about this in the past, and he knows where you stand and what your expectations are for him, so you’re comfortable with the conversation. That is, until he asks this question: “So, have you ever tried drugs?” He watches you intently, studying your facial expression, waiting for any sign of affirmation or denial.

You think hard and quick. You try not to have an anxiety attack about the fact that your answer will probably make a difference, one way or the other, in your kid’s future decisions. Neither of your options seems especially desirable. If you’ve done drugs, then your kid will think you’re a hypocrite for telling him not to. If you haven’t, he will question your ability to understand and write you off as uninformed.

Seconds are ticking and you’re in the Hot Seat. What do you do?

If you haven’t encountered this question yet, you are one lucky duck. You have time to prepare, and prepare you must, because it WILL happen. If it’s not about drugs, it will be about getting drunk, or having sex, or doing something really, really stupid. If you’re close with your kids, it will be about all of these things and much, much more.

There are two schools of thought on how to handle these occurrences. One is to be honest – always – with your kids. I don’t subscribe to that school. The other is to lie. I don’t subscribe to that school, either, although I’ve made exceptions.  So where does that leave me in my search for the “right” answer to this question? Well, I believe that you have to know your kids.You have to have an inherent sense of what they can hear and be okay with, and what they should never hear because it will do them no good to hear it. Will it benefit your kids to know that you did drugs? Only if you have a profound lesson to share that will impact them and help them to make the smart choice. Will it help your kids to know about your sexual encounters? Um, no. I haven’t met a kid yet who is curious about his parents’ sex life. When they come to you about advice in that area, they want knowledge and wisdom and insight, not personal experience. Will it help your kids to know about mistakes you’ve made and regrets you have? Again, if you feel that your kids could benefit from your experience and they’ve specifically asked you about it, share it. But don’t feel like you have to reveal all of your uncomfortable, regrettable mistakes from your past in the interest of honesty. If they don’t ask, don’t tell.

Your kids are not your therapists, or your priests, or your problem solvers. And they are not your friends. They are your kids. Save the confidences and revelations for your buddies. And all of your past actions that you wish you could forget? File them under “Seemed like a good idea at the time,” and let yourself off the hook. We were all young and stupid once.

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