Michele’s seventh-grade daughter confided in her that a friend and classmate was having sex with an older boy and thought she might be pregnant. The friend’s mother didn’t know that she was sexually active.
Sworn to secrecy, Michele was torn between honoring her child’s trust and protecting the other child. In the end, she decided to keep her daughter's confidence and not alert the other mother.
Did Michele do the right thing? Experts and moms weigh in.
“Protect your child’s trust: Do not tell the other mother,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, child and adolescent psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Always praise your child for talking with you and telling you what’s going on and what’s on her mind.”
Parenting expert John Duffy agrees. “This is among the trickiest parenting situations, to be sure,” says Dr. Duffy, parenting expert and author of The Available Parent. “I lean strongly in favor of sustaining, protecting and cherishing the mother-daughter confidence.”
“How could any parent knowingly sit back and let another child do something dangerous?” asks mom Melissa Perlman Chelist.
Melissa has strict confidence with her three daughters, ages 16, 13 and 10. “They can talk to me about anything and they do,” she says. “However, if someone is doing something unhealthy or dangerous, it is my responsibility as an adult to help. My children know this.”
Mom Deanna Lightner encourages her child to put herself in the friend's shoes. “I would have a heart-to-heart talk with my daughter,“ says Deanna. “I would explain that I, as her mom, would want to know if she were in danger so she didn't have to face it all alone and I could get her the help she needed. I would do it out of love.“
“My older daughters have discussed with me that some other girls are having sexual encounters or drinking. This I do not share,” Chelist says.
Instead, she uses these discussions as opportunities to help her daughters protect themselves. “We discuss safety. I remind them that they should discuss with me if and when they become sexually active, and I remind them that they should never drink and drive.”
If you have to break your daughter’s confidence — her friend is suicidal, for example — “talk it over with your daughter first,” says Dr. Walfish. Help her understand why it’s important for you to reach out to the other mother.
“The only situation I would allow to violate the mother-daughter confidence would be the imminent danger of another child,” says Dr. Duffy. “If health and safety are directly at issue — a friend is suicidal or using heavy drugs — then I think it becomes critical to break the confidence.”
Talk it over with your daughter first: “It is important for Mom to talk to her daughter about the reason for the violation, and why it merits the break in confidence,” says Dr. Duffy.
Every mother-daughter relationship is different. If you and your child can be continually open and honest with each other, then you will get through these tough situations together.
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