Parents were often advised during the era of the Great Depression to shield their children from the terrible financial stresses threatening their family. It was a terrible time. People lost their farms, their homes, their jobs, their savings, their companies, their banks and in many cases their lives. Even more, while the financial situation of the nation and the world grew worse and worse, the clouds of war were gathering. It is estimated that by the time World War II ended, at least 80 million people had been killed. People dreaded the mailman because the next letter might be notification that a loved one had been killed in action or that a relative still living in Europe or Russia or Asia had died.
So of course it made sense to shield children from the horrible things happening and from the worries and threats hanging over everybody. The notion of keeping secrets from children that sprang up from those times has continued to our time. Sad to say, there are some parallels between then and now. Financial uncertainty and the clouds of war are part of the news every day. But one of the differences between then and now is that the news cannot be hidden. We now live in an age of such advanced and pervasive communication of every type that children get information all the time, whether from their parents or elsewhere. Television, radio, the internet and cell phones have changed our world forever. Some child will hear the news and pass it along to children who are being shielded from the news by their family. There really are no secrets any more about world and national affairs.
These days it is better to help our children understand what is happening around them, taking account of their ability and communicating at their level of comprehension. Better children hear bad news from those who love them. Children sense stress. They, like adults, get frightened by danger. They will imagine bad things when they know something is wrong but cannot get those who take care of them to talk. Children need assurance and assistance to cope with bad news and danger. Simply keeping family secrets from them does not get the job done.
Remember: the keeping of secrets leads to a breakdown of trust.