Adapted from a recent online discussion.
12-year-old daughter's secret too loaded for Mom to keep
What Should I Do?: My daughter, 12, recently stayed overnight with a friend's daughter, 16. The next day my daughter says she needs to tell me something but makes me promise not to say anything. The 16-year-old had a boy in the house without the parents knowing. My daughter says, "Mom, just tell her mom that she needs to have the sex talk with her!"
Now, I love that my daughter told me and want her to continue that. I don't want to break that trust. I need to say something to my friend — but I can't even begin to figure out what. Also, my daughter really likes hers and doesn't want to strain their relationship. Help.
Carolyn: I think you need to go back to your daughter (hereafter "12") and explain that this is a confidence you can't keep.
I realize the most significant risk is that 12 won't come to you anymore, so I would address that openly. Assure her that she did the right thing by telling, and that you want her to keep trusting you, to which end you promise the following.
1. You will keep her secrets wherever possible.
2. You will make sure she's the first one to know (as you're doing now) when keeping the secret isn't possible, and why.
3. You will tell only when it's in the best interests of the person she's trying to protect.
4. You will invite her suggestions on whatever action you take.
Explain your decision with the example of mandated reporting: There are some secrets that even professionals bound by privilege have to share, due to greater ethical obligations. She's mature enough to come to you, so there's a good chance she'll grasp the nuances of your responsibility.
It is, in fact, in the best interest of the 16-year-old (hereafter "16") that you alert her mom. Sixteen may get in trouble, but that's still better than the other trouble she's headed for; she isn't ready for unsupervised boy visits if she feels the need to sneak them past her parent(s). The courage to speak up is what allows someone to resist peer pressure — so, in essence, 16 is in a private home, unsupervised, with boys, and likely without the fortitude yet to own her own behavior. If she wants to say no to someone, will she be able to?
Once the secret is out, her parents (one would hope) will be able to say no for her. That's a favor parents have been doing for their kids as long as there have been kids. Not that many kids see it that way.
Sixteen may turn on 12 and 12 may turn on you, but your job is to teach, not to be popular.
Anonymous: I'm shocked — shocked to learn that 16-year-olds sneak around having sex. For this you are advising the mom to forever poison the relationship between them?
This is not a case of a 30-year-old guy molesting a child. Keep the promise, especially when what her daughter requested will effectively accomplish the same thing.
Carolyn: "Forever" strikes me as an exaggeration — it's a snit either girl would outgrow.
Also, 16 was reckless with 12 by having the boy over, which is an aggravating factor for sure.