“Grandma, I want to tell you something.”
Your teenage granddaughter is staying with you. She trusts you. So you reply, “Sure, Susi, what is it?”
“Promise you won’t tell mom or dad?”
What do you say? She wants a promise. What if she tells you something you, or she, really should tell her parents?
Sometimes a teen wants something kept secret that seems really big to her but is actually very small: “Grandma, I think that boy is cute.” But sometimes the matter could be very serious: “Grandma, a friend brought xyz drugs to a sleepover and we tried them….” (The problem isn’t just that she tried drugs, but also who she is hanging out with, and the fact that others are also being put at risk, not just your granddaughter!)
Teens can play the “promise not to tell” card for many reasons. They may want help, encouragement, comfort, or wisdom. They may just want to share a private burden or thrill. They may come to you because they know their friends will blab. Or they may be dealing with shame or guilt and realize they can’t handle it on their own.
By coming to you already expressing that kind of trust, she is probably open to the help and comfort you can give her – not simply keeping her secret, but offering a practical solution, peaceful encouragement, help in talking to her parents if needed, and walking alongside her on the journey.
What to say? Don’t promise what you shouldn’t promise. Answer her heart, not her question. She wants reassurance that she can trust you with something important, not a promise. If instead of saying, “I promise,” you say something like, “Why don’t you tell me what it is, and we can talk about it together?” You will give her the reassurance she is needing. You will be addressing her real need.
Understanding the heart is a key skill in youth work…and grandparenting.
For Discussion: Think back to when you were a teen and how you handled a similar issue. Did you have people whom you trusted? Who?
For Action: Pray that your grandchildren will always have someone trustworthy to go to with confidential issues.
Molly Kilpatrick trains youth workers in pastoral skills. She works for Kairos and lives in Lansing, Michigan.
Copyright © 2019 Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club.