Disclosure and Secrecy in Adolescent–Parent Relationships


  • We thank Dr. Kenneth Hilton, the Rush-Henrietta School District, and the many families who participated in this research. We are also grateful to Aparajita Biswas, Emily Locker, Gregory Sherman, Pia Weston, and Alexandra Rivera for their assistance with this study.

concerning this article should be addressed to Judith Smetana, Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, Meliora Hall, RC 270266, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627. Electronic mail may be sent to smetana@psych.rochester.edu.


Beliefs about parents' legitimate authority and adolescents' obligations to disclose to parents and actual disclosure and secrecy in different domains were examined in 276 ethnically diverse, lower middle-class 9th and 12th graders (Ms=14.62 and 17.40 years) and their parents (n=249). Adolescents were seen as more obligated to disclose prudential issues and less obligated to disclose personal than moral, conventional, and multifaceted issues; parents viewed adolescents as more obligated to disclose to parents than adolescents perceived themselves to be. Adolescents disclosed more to mothers than to fathers, particularly regarding personal issues, but mothers overestimated girls' disclosure. Greater trust, perceived obligations to disclose, and, for personal issues, more parental acceptance and psychological control predicted more disclosure and less secrecy.