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Introducing Teens to Genealogy

Discussing Family Secrets with Children

Your child is beginning to learn their family history. There are some parts of family history that are not easy to talk about.  But it is important to share to prevent generational trauma and ending the cycle.  Here are some ways to navigate those conversations.  Family history can be filled with some important yet traumatic stories. It is important to come up with a plan on how you will share these stories with your children. At the end of the day it is your decision as a parent.  But here are some things to consider. 

It is important that they know as many perspectives to the story as possible. With family drama comes multiple points of view.  It could be advantageous for them to have these conversations with other trusted family members to hear their perspective.  

It is important to be open for any potential questions they may have.  If there are any potential triggers within the story, for you and/or your child, be aware of that and be sure to check in during the conversation and establish healthy boundaries.    

This is most likely going to be a series of conversations over time.  

Here are some things to keep in mind when having conversations around the following topics.

General Family Drama

When your children are young (under 13), depending on the topic of the drama, an overview for context should suffice and answer any follow up questions to the best of your ability. For more “darker themed” family drama, wait until your child is 16+ and has the appropriate skills and resources to process this information. Be willing to answer any and all nuanced questions they may have. 

Medical History

I think medical history within a family can be discussed as early as around ages 7-10. Giving again, the basic overview of who had what. As they get older 13+ you can begin to have conversations around how the disease impacted the afflicted relative and how those around that person were impacted by their illness. This is a time when you can help them with research in learning more about the illness and how it could possibly affect them in the future and the importance of knowing your family’s medical history. At this age that should also include mental health issues that are prevalent within the family as well.  

Addiction

Like many of the other types of family secrets, it would be best to start this conversation around the teen years.  Regardless of the types of addiction that run in the family, you can start by explaining what addiction is.  Then you can utilize the forms in which it presents in your family as examples. As they get into their later teens you can go deeper into the impact addiction can have on their life and those around them.  

Mental Health

More current generations are beginning to talk more about mental health within the family history.  By sharing these discussions with your children could allow them to relate to different family members that they may share symptoms.  It can also lead to compassion and understanding of those who experience varying levels of mental health and become more in tune and conscious of their own mental health.  

Abuse

Abuse within a family should be discussed as early as possible. Simply letting your children be aware of what behaviors qualify as abuse and to let them know that it is okay to speak out.  As they get older 13+ you can begin to go into more detail about any history of abuse and have a more nuanced conversation about it and answer questions they may have.  Also being aware of the child’s relationship with any living abusers within the family as well. 

Keeping family secrets can lead to brick walls in later research and the perpetuation of generational trauma. By having healthy discussions about the secrets within one’s family it can allow for growth and learning for future generations as they discover more about their ancestors’ stories.  

By Whitney Porter

My name is Whitney Porter. I am 21 years old and from New Jersey, USA. I have been interested in family history and genealogy since I was 13. I have been doing genealogy research for about a year and a half. My ancestry is Southern US, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and Nova Scotia. I previously attended Campbell University majoring in Political Science with a minor in Economics. I am now working in the non profit sector. I enjoy recovering and preserving the stories of the past so that they may inform and guide us in the present into the future.

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