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What To Tell The Kids About The Past

The Early Show, Correspondent Debbye Turner asked some kids from the New York City youth journalism program, Children's Pressline, how many of them wanted to know the details of their parent's past and their responses were mixed, group of children
CBS/The Early Show
Sometimes, the hardest thing about our past is how to share it with our future.

How much do we tell the children and when to tell it is a complicated question for parents and kids alike.

"My aunt told me that my grandmother was against my parents' marriage," said teenager Siury Mericedes, "and she went and married him anyways! Could you believe that? Oh, my gosh."

Sometimes, kids just love knowing their parents' dirty laundry. And sometimes, they don't.

By a show of hands, Correspondent Debbye Turner asked some kids from the New York City youth journalism program, Children's Pressline, how many of them wanted to know the details of their parent's past and their responses were mixed.

Samantha explained, "I wouldn't want to know every single detail or everything that she did. I would just want to know, you know, how was your life in the past before I came into it."

These kids have plenty to say about the topic of how much they want know about their parent's past.

Natasha says, "If your parents were in some kind of, like, really big trouble, you wouldn't want to know about that because that would just put, like, extra weight on your shoulders."

Parris disagrees, "I don't think that it'll be weight on your shoulders because when they tell you they did something when it was wrong, just because they did it, that doesn't mean you have to do it. So, you don't have to follow behind your parents."

Marie adds, "But I don't want to know every single little detail about them."

Good thing, cause Marie's mom is not telling.

Marie's mom says, "There are some things that are best left in the past and you just move ahead."

But Parris' dad has a different philosophy.

Parris' dad says, "If he gets into a situation at school, I usually tell him what happened when I was younger. You know, try to parallel it. And usually it works."

Adolescent psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler says, "It's the rare kid who wants to hear the details about their parents lives at any age." She believes that parents should avoid sharing their steamy secrets.

Cohen-Sandler says, "What you want to do is, you want to take your child's questions and you want to try to put it back on them. You don't have to talk about your own experience. Turn it around and help your child to see that their question is really about them. And you put the focus on them, where it should be."

Alan Manevitz, a family psychiatrist, says, "I think that if a child asks you a specific question, it deserves a direct answer." He says that parents really shouldn't fudge on the details.

Dr. Manevitz explains, "If you're not honest about your past why should you expect your child to be honest about their present."

So what if sharing ends up preventing you from building a rapport with your teen?

Cohen-Sandler says, "I don't think you should be trying to build a friendship with your teenager."

She notes, "If you think that telling them about your transgressions is going to make them think that they can tell you more about their transgressions, that really doesn't work."

So Turner asked the kids if they wanted their parents to be more parents or their friends.

Shavonne says, "You don't want a parent who's, like, 'Ok, you're going to a party. I don't care what time you're coming back.' You want to know that they care, also."

But caring is not necessarily the same as full confession.

Dr. Manevitz says, "You don't have to give them how much, where, when. You don't have to give them those sort of details. That's still answering the question directly and then going on to talk about the concerns of your particular child."

Cohen-Sandler advises, "When your teenager's more of an adult and you have more of an adult-to-adult relationship with them and they don't need you to be a parental authority, that's when you can start revealing more about yourself – and becoming more of an equal."