A parent recently asked me why her daughter was willing to tell her certain things, but clammed up when asked about other topics. I replied by telling her the story of one young woman who said to me: “I do tell my Mum things, but not at the time they happen. I have to get them sorted in my mind first”. This response underscores a topic that has been the subject of research in social psychology recently, a topic that is known as “information management”. This refers to the fact that young people take an active role in managing the flow of information between themselves and the adults around them.
A young person may not disclose because they think the information will be hurtful, or will worry the adult. They may hold back because they think it is none of the adults’ business! Topics to do with sex and romance probably come into this category. Or, as indicated above, they may wish to wait till they are clear about the consequences of talking about a particular topic.
The conclusions of this are clear.
- Young people think carefully about how to manage information;
- They make decisions on what to talk about based on all sorts of reasons, some of which may be to do with protecting their parents, or not wanting to worry them;
- Teenagers have clear and well-thought out views about what parents ought to know, and what they do not need to know;
- This topic – information management – illustrates clearly that communication is a two-way process. Simply giving instructions, or asking questions (thought of as “interrogation” by young people) is unlikely to lead to good conversations!
- Good communication between parent and teenager depends on the adult being willing to listen and well as talk. Most importantly it is worth remembering that young people take an active role in deciding what to communicate, and when to do so.