Posted on November 4, 2011



One of the tricky things about living with a teenager is that you move, overnight from knowing everything about them to knowing next to nothing at all.

  • You walk into a room while they are on the phone; they walk out.
  • You ask who that was, they say mind your own business
  • They start answering questions over the dinner table with a non committed shrug
  • They give as little detail as possible about where they are going on Saturday night
  • You look at them and wonder who they are and feel an acute sense of loss about feeling so shut out from their lives as well as a terrifying fear that you might be being a bad mother for being the last to know…..

 So then you begin to imagine things. There must be something wrong. Perhaps they’re on drugs, failing at school or, worse still in love? You search through the rubbish bin and the drawers in their room, even read their diary for secret signs and then feel ugly for doing so. You ask them unsubtle questions, start talking manically about the dangers of alcohol or someone spiking their drink and how they could wake up the next morning having been raped in some gutter, without their phone or any money to get home and they look at you quizzically like you are a mad woman.

 Being the kind of mother who researches everything – like spending four years writing a book about adolescence so that I might be better at it – doesn’t help. Both my daughters hurl the book back at me whenever I tip too eagerly over the very hazy border between being protective and just plain nosey. ‘You should know without having to ask – you’ve written a book about it’. Well so? I remember driving one of my daughters to the tube station once when she announced that a certain nice young man had become her boyfriend. ‘Should we be talking about contraception?’ I asked in a motherly enquiring sort of way. ‘MU-UM!’ she wailed back. ‘We’re not having sex!’ I see. I wanted to reply ‘why not?’ but kept my mouth shut, because of course by her age I had already slept with several boys, although I cant remember who they were now.

 We all have secrets. I will go to my grave before I reveal some of mine to my children because it wouldn’t help them to know them. Secrets are an essential aspect of our identity and the fact that teenagers have theirs is a good sign, a sign that they want to be able to sort their lives out for themselves, rather than running to you for guidance at every opportunity. There’s loss there, sure, but what’s new about that. We start losing them from the moment they cut the umbilical cord.

 It’s the big secrets that really matter. I wouldn’t like them to feel burdened by something that feels like a source of shame or deep anxiety. I would hope that after all these years they would turn to us for help before they got too deeply into real trouble. As for the small secrets and what they really get up to on a Saturday night? Well it’s usually more than they let on, but not nearly as bad as our worst imaginings.

Posted in: secrets