Now ten years after the heartbreaking Columbine High tragedy, Susan Klebold has written an essay about her agony and her search for answers about her son's involvement. Her powerful and painful essay appears in the November 2009 edition of O: The Oprah Magazine. I was drawn to read it. As a veteran family therapist and mother of three highly independent children who were in their teens in 1999, I know that most children can or will keep secrets from their parents.
I consider myself an active and attentive mother and have maintained excellent relationships with my children. In fact, especially during their teen years, I felt like what I knew was more than I cared to know; but my three still had secrets they kept from me. Now that they are all twenty-something, new secrets from their childhood continue to emerge as stories of adventure, but not to me – to me they are pretty scary. I had absolutely no idea. How could I not know? Fortunately, no irreversible impact or tragedy has resulted from their secretive behavior as kids.
I have also learned about the secrets other kids keep, when their parents have brought them to me for therapy. And these are caring parents. While many of the parents had discovered the secrets themselves only because something went wrong, others remained out of the information loop concerning the turmoil, high-risk behavior, and emotional distress their kids experienced. Consistent with professional and legal guidelines, when providing therapy to minor clients I have always disclosed the secretive information as necessary. The secret stories are numerous. Here are composite examples with specifics altered.
Between the ages of 12 and 14, one child snuck out her bedroom window many nights for liaisons with girls and boys her age. At 16, a boy took frequent 500-mile overnight road trips, while he duped his parents into believing he was staying at close friends' homes. Another teenager had been sexually active with over 12 different partners in a year, while her parents were convinced she was still a virgin. Another child's parents had no idea that their teen daughter was sexually active, much less that she had had a legal abortion with the help of an older relative. A gay teen boy had discovered his sexuality and become sexually active at 13 with older partners, with his parents totally unaware. Untold numbers of parents have not known of their child's ongoing suicidal ideations, despite regular family interaction. And secret online lives can be difficult to discover.