Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What if someone else's child comes to you for help?

Mata H. has a fascinating discussion going over at, in which she presents an ethical dilemma that those of us with tweens and teens may find ourselves facing sooner rather than later: What do you do if someone else's child confides in you about something they don't want to tell their parents?

She writes:
She is nervous. She began by saying that she had some questions she needed to get answered "for a friend". She has come to you because her parents "just wouldn't understand". Her hands are actually shaking.

Soon you understand what she did not want to tell her very strict parents.

She is asking about STDs. Although she still says she is asking "for a friend", it is becoming clear as you read between the lines of what she is telling you, that Sarah, age 13, has been sexually active.

The question is loaded on several levels (click through to her post to read the whole thing). Kids are becoming sexually active earlier -- and getting pregnant more frequently -- so talking with kids about sex, contraception, and sexually fransmitted diseases is more important than ever. But that's a conversation parents are supposed to have with their own kids -- not somebody else's. On the other hand, if a teen came to you for help, can you really send her away?

When I was in high school, I was a peer advisor for a new and innovative health-and-sexuality program for teenagers. I talked with many teens who didn't feel comfortable talking to their parents, who needed information, knew they needed help, but didn't know where to turn. (Incidentally, having so much information about sexuality made me less inclined to do the deed as a teen, not more inclined. But that's another post).

In the situation Mata H. describes, I'd probably offer the teen some basic information -- facts, numbers, resources. No judgement, no morality, no offering to drive her to Planned Parenthood (she's asking about her "friend" after all). I'd encourage her to try to talk to her mom, too, even if she insisted that her parents wouldn't understand. And then I'd try to start a conversation with her parents.

Yes, really. I'd ask them for their insight into the dilemma, or maybe I'd say that I was worrying about kids I've overheard at school. Chances are, they wouldn't want to talk to me about it, but I would still try.

What if the situation was reversed, and it was my child seeking info from someone else? I would hope that the person my child confided in would offer her just information and facts -- and then give me a heads up. (Really, though, I'd also hope my child would feel comfortable coming to me, first).

What would you do if someone else's child confided in you about something like this? Would you tell her parents?

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