The Upside of Sharing Secrets
Secrets are bad. It’s a mantra every ten-year-old learns (and then obsessively repeats to the cool kids in an effort to discover who has a crush on who.) But there’s truth to it. Scientists believe that keeping secrets can lead to more stress and increased negative affect. The problem is that because trust and privacy are important for not making people hate you, revealing everything to everybody isn’t a great option either. What’s a kid to do?
According to a group of Dutch psychologists the answer starts with rejecting the secret/no secret dichotomy. They propose something called a “shared secret,” a piece of information that somebody reveals to a limited number of people. It turns out that although secrets are bad, research suggests shared secrets can be beneficial:
Having a shared secret next to a private secret seemed to dampen the association between keeping the private secret and depressive mood. When comparing secrets kept private and shared secrets directly, a similar pattern of results emerged: Adolescents with a shared secret were better adjusted than those with a private secret.
Our results concerning the role of the confidant are in line with our hypothesis that sharing secrets serves important interpersonal functions. When a secret was shared with parents or a best friend, the quality of that particular relationship was higher.
It’s hard to know which way the causality runs — perhaps being emotionally stable makes you more likely to have somebody to share a secret with rather than the other way around — but either way it speaks to the importance of having somebody to confide in during adolescence.
One thing that’s unfortunate about the fact that our school choice debate focuses exclusively on competition is that we don’t acknowledge that choice is a good thing on its own. For example, having more than one school option raises the number of other kids a student might interact with and thus it raise the chances they’ll have somebody with whom they can share a secret.
There are a number of other reasons why a school that’s perfectly acceptable may not be a good fit for a particular student. There may be too much (or too little) group work or technology. The cafeteria food may not sit will with their digestive system. The locker room may not have enough privacy. Being a kid is hard, and any number of tiny things can poison a student’s school experience. It would be progress if people put aside ideology long enough to acknowledge that regardless of the labels we place on schools, options are good.
Frijns, T., Finkenauer, C., & Keijsers, L. (2012). Shared secrets versus secrets kept private are linked to better adolescent adjustment Journal of Adolescence DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.09.005