The Truth, the Whole Truth...well, sort of!

We all have those things we're not so proud of that we did when we were young, impressionable, and seemingly invincible. I know I have several, including the time I dove into a swimming hole because everyone else was doing it, only to learn two weeks later that someone drowned after diving off the same cliff. Somehow, we lived through it all - maybe not unscathed, but a bit wiser. Once your child has entered her teen years, you think back on those things you would do differently now, and you fear your teen will make the same kinds of mistakes, only with more severe consequences.

Parents are often unsure about how much to disclose. Should you spill all when your teen decides to ask questions about your past? Your teen might take your drop dead honesty to heart and believe that, since you lived through it, it must not be so bad. On the other hand, she might learn from your mistakes and take the opposite path. Parents are divided on this issue: some feel honesty is the best policy while others think secrets are best kept in the closet.

Don't Have Selective Recall

Hopefully, you're able to reflect on your own teen years through clear glasses, not the rose colored kind. This will help you connect with your teen because you'll empathize with his in good judgment. However, keep in mind that your role now as parent is one where you must guide and provide limits, not behave like one of his friends - he has plenty of those!

Dr. Mary E. Muscari, co-author of The Everything Guide to Raising Adolescent Girls and The Everything Guide to Raising Adolescent Boys (Adams Media, 2008), advises, "Being a positive role model is critical for parents since children learn by modeling behavior, not by simply being told what to do. However, being a positive role model is not the same as qualifying for canonization."

The Angel Myth

Chances are you weren't an absolute angel. Guess what? Your teen probably suspects this! So, will she think you're hypocritical if you pretend you were? Some parents fear that if their teen knows they weren't completely virtuous, their teen's perspective of them might change, and she might scoff at future parental advice.

Muscari explains, "Children learn how we handle mistakes and how we grow from them. Talking to your teens about your own stumbles through adolescence shows them that anyone can easily take the wrong path but that it takes courage to get back on the right one."

Is Absolute Honesty the Best Policy?

Studies show that teens are less likely to use drugs or dabble in other risky behaviors when their parents have talked to them about the risks. However, personal details parents choose to share with their teen should depend on their teen's personality, history, and maturity level. Teens are smart enough to know that their parents weren't perfect and likely made mistakes of their own. However, there are certain topics which parents might feel are better kept private, particularly if they suspect a well-you-did-it-why-can't-I attitude.

If your teen asks about your past, consider this an opportunity to open up communication with him. Total disclosure is not necessary to gain the trust of your teen. Find out why he's asking questions. What is going on in his world? Discuss how peer pressure affected you. If you choose to talk about your past mistakes, don't glorify risky behavior. Instead, share how poor choices resulted in negative consequences.

Muscari explains, "It's a judgment call. There are just too many variations among parents and teens to have a one-size-fits-all framework for anything. If you fear that disclosure will result in dangerous risk-taking, don't tell. We don't need to clean everything out of our closets!"


  • "Honesty isn't always the best policy. There are certain topics that I believe should be taboo. An adolescent's world is more black and white. Certain sexual, criminal, or drug related topics should be capped like the oil well in the gulf."
    Dr. Julian Hertzog - Fulton, MO
  • "Parents in my son's private school in Manhattan were divided about what to tell their teens. I was in the "truthful" camp - but only when asked. I didn't volunteer information."
    Samuela Becker - New York, NY