Ask Amy: Family secret is now grist for rumor mill

Dear Amy: Our nephew “Jeremy” is in jail for three months for a road rage incident. He’s a good kid with anger-management issues. His mother (my sister-in-law) has told everyone in the extended family, except for her mother-in-law, “Mary.”

This is very uncomfortable. We know that at some time the truth will come out and that we will all be held to blame.

If Mary asks us if we know how Jeremy is doing, should we tell her the truth?

We think it’s wrong to keep this from her but are trying to be loyal to my sister-in-law. What should we do?

Amy says: Every day I hear about long-held family secrets — adoptions, crimes, infidelity, etc. I’m talking about huge secrets known by a circle of people who managed not to disclose this knowledge to others sometimes for decades.

I believe in truth and disclosure.

However, there are degrees of crimes and limits to the need for disclosure. If a young person’s mother asks you not to disclose to an older family member something deeply personal regarding a crime one of her children committed, then you should respect her wish, unless the crime would have a direct impact on the mother-in-law (i.e. she would be at risk).

You should urge your sister-in-law to disclose this news herself, because then she — not another family member — can provide the context.

If you are asked how “Jeremy” is doing, say, “I haven’t seen him lately, but you should ask his mom. I know she’s been in touch with him.”

If this news comes out, and “Mary” blames you for keeping silent, you can say, “This was not my news to tell.”

Concerned about teen’s Web pal

Dear Amy: Your response to the parents whose 14-year-old girl is corresponding online with an 18-year-old boy took me by surprise. Her parents should discourage the relationship, pronto!

Internet relationships encourage dishonesty and possibly dangerous behavior. What’s to prevent this quiet and shy 14-year-old from meeting him in person?

Amy says: I agree with you (and the parents who wrote to me) that this relationship is definitely something to be concerned about. That is why I suggested that the parents must be as involved as possible: meeting this person (virtually), verifying his identity and basically bringing this relationship out into the open.

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