When discussing healthy and unhealthy relationships it is important to consider secret relationships. Whether we are talking about face-to-face or online, if a relationships is hidden from a young person’s nearest and dearest it could be a point for concern…
There are lots of legitimate reasons why a young person might choose to keep a relationship secret from their family or friends. However, they need to be aware that by its very nature, being in a secret relationship can be a risky business.
Firstly, encourage young people to ask themselves why it so important to keep their relationship hidden?
Is it their own choice or is it something their partner is pushing for?
We work with many young people who decide to keep their relationship private because they are in a same sex relationship and they are not yet out to their family, or perhaps their partner is from a different race or culture that their family might not agree with. In these cases, sometimes the family that we would expect to support them, suddenly become the risk.
Now families have a habit of surprising us – those that we thought would react badly, are in fact super supportive and understanding once they are given the chance. Most people’s parent’s only want their child to be happy.
Some parents can be over protective – and think their child might be too young to get into a serious relationship – thinking that it might be a distraction – and hoping they will instead focus on their exams.
To be fair – they are often right! Relationships are a huge distraction, and a nice body and a bit of kissing can take the focus off your text books… however, this is a natural part of being a teenager.
However much parents want to protect their child from all that nonsense – they are fighting a losing battle – and it is much better that their child is in a relationship with their parent’s support rather than their child being left trying to sneak around behind their back.
The best approach is to encourage honesty. Often by encouraging young people to talk to their parent’s explaining that they understand their parent’s concerns and that they know that they are only trying to look out for them will make a massive difference. The child can then offer their parent’s the compromise that if it starts to affect their school work they will revaluate their relationship – with any luck parent’s will be impressed by their child’s honesty and think that it shows a lot of responsibility and maturity…
Equally parent’s need to be aware that they can’t keep tabs on their child 24-7 and that they would be far better off being part of their child’s relationship rather than their child sneaking around behind their back. At least if parent’s are aware they can then keep dialogue open with their child and vice versa. Remember abusers often use parent’s controlling behaviour as a tool to isolate the child. “Your parent’s treat you like a kid, they don’t understand you like I do….” the more a parent tries to keep tabs on them, the more a child will push and move towards the abuser.
Secrets can make a child vulnerable.
A question of safety – not all families will protect you
Whilst most families can be supportive and only want to keep you safe and happy – unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone. Some families would and do react very badly – violently even if they find out that one of their children were in a relationship that they did not agree with for whatever reason. Some young people might be disowned and abandoned whilst others safety could be put at risk.
The key message to emphasise to young people – is that if it is safer for their family not to know about their relationship – they need to still speak to someone.
There are many agencies that will support young people who haven’t come out yet or that have difficult families. They can talk to a friend or a more understanding family member that they can trust. Having someone to talk to is the biggest protective factor in a relationship.
Relationships are tough at the best of times, but doing it all on your own with no one to share the ups and downs or to ask questions of, whilst keeping everything a secret is truly hard work.
If it is not a question of a child’s safety – why is it so important for them to keep their relationship a secret?
The trouble is if a young person is lying to the people around them and hiding their relationship – they are putting themselves at risk. Think about it – if a child’s family think they are at a friend’s house, when in fact they are out driving around with their new secret partner – how are they supposed to know where they are if something happens?
What happens if things to get out of hand or go badly? One reason young people don’t ask for help is because it can be much harder to ask for help if they are worried about getting in trouble because they aren’t where they should be or have lied in the first place (abusers know this and use this fact).
Unfortunately, there are people out there that will encourage a young person to keep a relationship secret and will use the distance between the young person and their family to take advantage of them or to get them to do things that you don’t want to do.
We call this grooming and sexual exploitation…
To find out more read these following pages