Parenting: ‘My nephew’s parents want me to tell them all his secrets’

On this week’s ‘Parenting’ segment on the Moncrieff program, one listener sought advice on what to tell his nephew’s parents after asking him to spill the child’s secrets.

Joanna Fortune, a psychotherapist specializing in Child and Adult Psychotherapy, has joined Moncrieff to answer these and other listeners’ questions.

The question:

“My nephew is 12 and we have always been close, because I live close and have never had children of my own, and because he is the oldest grandchild in our family, he has always received special attention.

“Over the last year or two, he’s made a lot of me confident – he’s going to football and over a cup of hot chocolate, he’s telling me what’s going on in life. It’s the usual things like a fallout with a classmate, whether he struggles with a subject at school or sometimes he tells me things that go on at home between his mom and dad.

“As an uncle, I like this time with him, but I’m starting to worry that I’re somehow exceeding the mark and he should say these things to his parents. I know he does not tell them what he tells me. do not say (I ‘I asked them) and I can see them getting more and more worried that he is not sharing with them.

“Should I encourage my nephew to go to them instead of me? They asked me to tell them everything he says, but I know he will feel betrayed if he finds out.”

Joanna’s response:

“He is 12 and it has been going on for a few years and I find myself curious about who is still at home.

“And is it an opportunity for this boy to have very special one-on-one focus and attention with an uncle who has a very willing audience and is available – really kind of ‘Yes, tell me everything!’

“I think it’s really beautiful, there’s nothing wrong with it and I think what an inventive little kid to find a place where he thinks, ‘This is my time, this is about the hot chocolate.’ There is something very warm, nurturing and ritual about it.

“I know he’s 12 – teens see it a lot more and I think it’s nice, but it’s creating an expectation and a tradition that he has this space.

“Because it is really normal for teenagers to seek greater privacy and independence and move away from their parents. In other words, to tell them less and parents to want to know more.

“So what’s important is that he has a safe, trusted adult in his network – this is not a random person in his life, this is his uncle!

“As parents I think it must be very difficult, I can empathize with parents who say ‘Why is he telling you, not me? You have to tell me everything he says!’ No, I mean, it’s good that they want to know everything – it’s understandable, but that does not mean they’ll get it.

“Because actually the reassurance that he is talking to someone, he is talking to someone you know, with whom he is safe, who you all trust and that is part of his growing up journey.

“And I think protecting this space, the boundaries that everyone – including the boy as well as uncle and parents – need to be clear about, is that if he tells you something that will require parental involvement, parental response or intervention, you will involve them. “

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