The Secret Diary of a Tween

It is Saturday morning and Nancy and I are in the gift shop, prior to an afternoon birthday party.  We head towards the stationary shelf, always useful, Nancys everywhere can never have too many notebooks. My Nancy pounces on a Secret Diary and brandishes it triumphantly at me, and I’m told that even more attractive than the pink and the sparkle on its cover is the lock and key on its side, apparently everyone loves secret diaries this year. 

I ask her, what might her friend write in this Secret Diary? Nancy looks non-plussed. It’s, like, secret, she says. I hear both question and exclamation mark in her voice, and her eyes are rounding at me, she’s not allowed to say “Like, Duh?!?” but if she was she’d be saying it now. Her use of like is another blog post in itself, for now I’m intrigued by Nancy’s concept of what is secret. Nancy looks cautiously around the shop, then pulls me in the direction of a darker corner. Even talking about secrets seems to require a dark corner in which to talk: once we get there, Nancy talks rapidly but in little more than a whisper about the role of secrets in the lives of our tweens. 

It turns out that some of her friends love secrets. So much so that we pause the shopping and go for a hot chocolate, choosing a bench seat in a little booth, a worthy location for more of this talk about secrets. The more Nancy tells me, the more I start to think that none of these things should be secret at all, rather, they should be outed, and stopped. Secret letters, secrets between some friends and not others, secret words shared with some and not with others, secret signals where, again, some are in the know and some aren’t because, like, [sic] it wouldn’t be a secret otherwise. Secret rules for secret games, games where secrets are told, and the dilemma my Nancy feels when somebody says “Don’t tell your Mum, but…”. 

Nancys, tell your Mums. Mums, keep the hot chocolates coming, because you need to know about these secrets and you need to keep your Nancy talking to you so that she knows she can talk to you about secrets. 

I googled the word ‘secrets’. I didn’t share the search engine responses with Nancy. There was a slightly sleazy, slightly underhand tone to many of the google hits. 

My friend Louise has a very simple, very relevant rule about secrets: if the secret isn’t beneficial to the person kept out of the secret, stop keeping the secret and invite her in. Birthday presents aside, most secrets benefit no-one, and need not be kept. 

In recent years, perhaps the anonymity of having a voice on the internet has popularised secrets, certainly brought secrecy into focus in the tween and teen world. Who is told and who isn’t, who is in your tribe and who’s out, as defined by who is in your social media inbox and who isn’t. I came across a TED talk recently about a project called Post Secret, which publishes secrets, sent in anonymously on a postcard, on a website. Is it anonymity which maintains the secrecy of the shared thought, memory or experience on a public forum? 

You can watch the TED talk if you click here, food for thought: https://www.ted.com/talks/frank_warren_half_a_million_secrets?language=en

As adults, we may shun secrecy in front of our children but use a different word amongst ourselves, and talk confidentially to those closest to us. What is it that we enjoy about those confidences that we share with some, keep from others? Is confidential an adult awareness of when to withhold information and when to share it? How do we teach this awareness to our tweens? 

I thought about secrets over the weekend. I found benefits came with secrets shared, as I was invited to visit secret beaches and book secret hotels in secret destinations in the travel section of the weekend newspaper. I remember the pleasure of sharing a secret diary with the rest of my generation in my 1980s childhood, when The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole was hidden at the bottom of school bags and consumed by torchlight under the bedclothes of other curious 1980s tweens. 

Nancy and I head back to the gift shop. We have talked about never keeping secrets with people online, and about what hiding your thoughts behind anonymity might say about you as a person. She has given me much more than that to think about, to talk about with Louise. I steer Nancy towards a different shelf, towards a book called You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed, a practical guide to steering a positive course through your tweens. A friend bought this book for Nancy’s last birthday. We like that friend a lot. 

Thanks to the hot chocolate conversation, we’d rather be like that friend, than be a friend who encourages secrecy with a secret diary as a gift. 

Good conversations take place over hot chocolate. I’m heading back to that bench seat in the little booth for a confidential conversation with Louise this week. 

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