DEAR KELLY: First off, I just want to say that I love "Teen Talk." I've always thought that anybody who gets an answer from you must be lucky to get your input. But now I need some of that luck. My friend "Jane" has a mom who hits her. Nothing serious, just for disciplinary measures, or at least, that's what Jane said.
I'm not so sure, given what Jane has done about it recently. A couple of weeks ago, she told me that she was afraid to go home because of her mom. Later, she said everything was too much to bear, and she called social services. She feels like she was weak, and has made me promise not to say anything. She said that if they investigate, she could be taken from her mom, and probably move away from all of her friends.
I feel like I need to keep my promise to her, but if I do, her mom will keep hitting her. If I don't, though, she could have to move away and I might never see her again, and she would always know that I broke my promise to her. Is withholding information in cases like this against the law? What do I do?
– Confused And Worried
DEAR CONFUSED AND WORRIED: You sound like a good friend to be concerned about Jane. Things do not sound good at her home and your red flags to be confused and worried about your friend's safety are absolutely correct.
You aren't responsible for Jane's life and you aren't the cause of disruption if Jane is removed from her home. Her mother is the accountable one and the one causing the confusion and worry because of her actions. You should not feel guilty at all.
Sometimes being a good friend means doing something that is very difficult or upsetting, but that you know is the right thing to do. You don't want to hold on to Jane's secret that her mom hits her and allow it to continue to happen. The only way Jane will be protected and have it stop is if adults find out and can intervene on Jane's behalf.
No one likes to break a promise but sometimes it's inevitable. In situations like yours, keeping the promise would not help Jane and she would continue to be hurt. Helping her means speaking up for her in a situation where she can't speak up for herself. Please don't see it as breaking a promise but rather as getting your friend the help she needs so she no longer is in danger of being hurt.
Your comment that Jane's mom hits her – "nothing serious" – isn't correct. Anytime someone physically hits someone else, it is serious and needs to be addressed.
Start by suggesting to Jane that you go with her to talk with a trusted adult. Tell her that she won't be alone and you will be with her the whole time. Suggest someone like your parent, a favorite teacher or coach, a school counselor or nurse, a youth pastor if she attends church, or a relative in her family who can intervene and help.
Offer to sit with her, speak for her if it's too painful or do whatever she feels most comfortable with as you tell the adults.
If Jane refuses to talk with anyone, then you need to be the voice that speaks up for her. Will she be angry? Possibly, but you can't let that stop you from doing what is right. Talk to someone at school (i.e. principal, teacher, counselor, coach or nurse), because they are obligated by the law to speak up for Jane about what is happening in her home. Together with social services, they can decide what is in Jane's best interest. Jane's safety will be their first priority and could be a healthy change for her. No matter what Jane tells you, talk to an adult.
She may tell you the hitting has stopped or that her mom won't do it again, but you need to still let an adult know what is happening for Jane's best interest.
Speaking up for your friend takes a lot of strength and courage. It's never easy to be in the place you are. Being a good friend doesn't mean you need to keep the secret, it means you need to help Jane be in a safe environment where she no longer lives in fear or pain.