What We Can't Tell You

Teenagers Talk to the Adults in Their Lives

by Kathleen Cushman and the youth of What Kids Can Do

May 2005 ♦ Hardcover ♦ 146 pages ♦ ISBN: 0-9762706-0-9 ♦ $19.95

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Sixty diverse teenagers from around the country have helped write a groundbreaking new book in which they offer advice and arresting insights to parents and other close adults.

Risk-taking, rules and expectations, privacy, parental breakups, and planning for the future are among the topics on which kids speak out in What We Can't Tell You: Teenagers Talk to the Adults in Their Lives (Next Generation Press, May 2005). In candid first-person accounts gathered by journalist Kathleen Cushman, they give straight-up assessments of what teenagers need from adults.

“My mom makes me feel like I have to learn from her mistakes-she doesn't even give me a chance to make any of my own,” says Tabitha, who lives in a small rural town. “She just flat-out says no.” Michael, an African-American teenager from St. Louis, warns, “What might not be a large issue to you could be a very large issue to your child. So don't say, 'Don't worry about it.' Don't act like it's nothing.”

Tensions about control or worries about their children's welfare can make it hard for parents to hear and empathize with their own teenagers, particularly when accusations fly in both directions. But this book opens a “back door” to new understanding, since the messages come from other people's kids. Even if their situations don't match up exactly, they can spark important conversations that otherwise might never happen.

The book also reveals how much teenagers are watching and worrying about adults, not just the reverse. Lizz tells of the period when her mother's alcoholism overwhelmed the family, and how she and her parents grew closer from the experience. Erinn tells of feeling strange among his school friends after taking on a position in his father's business. Thea worries about whether she needs to protect her parents from the psychological issues with which she struggles. These teenagers' first-person stories lend poignancy to their pragmatic advice-and may also make parents wonder what their own kids haven't yet confided.

Each chapter ends with "Homework for Adults," brief exercises that help parents and other adults sort out the conflicts that often arise between generations. “Who Do You Tell?” asks adults to think about who they choose to share things with, and why. “Let's Make a Deal” describes the bargain kids are willing to strike with parents, limiting some of their freedoms but asking for support and respect.

Click below to see:

What people are saying about What We Can't Tell You

A note from the author (PDF)

"Homework for Adults" sample exercise (PDF)

Some of what teenagers say in the book (PDF)



 “Read every word of What We Can’t Tell You, as I did, and you’ll get to know these articulate teens by name. Consult it often, and you’ll become an accomplished and empathetic mentor.”
– Cathi Dunn MacRae,
Voices of Youth Advocates