How to raise the discreet child

Posted October 23, 2016

Several years ago, my mom gave my oldest son a book called “50 Things Every Young Gentleman Should Know.”

The slim volume, written by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis, is filled with practical nuggets of wisdom such as how to write a thank-you note, how to keep nails trimmed and clean and what to do in an embarrassing situation.

However, as I was thumbing through the book this week, pondering on the state of the world, one chapter stood out: Knowing when to keep your mouth shut.

The chapter introduces the young gentleman to the idea of “discretion,” knowing when and where it is appropriate to reveal information.

In an era of oversharing, and with so many platforms on which to share, the idea of discretion has become almost obsolete, and yet discretion is one of the most important tools we can teach our young people.

As our private lives become increasingly more public, discretion may be one of the touchpoints of future success. It’s crucial in professional settings. A 2012 article by Michael Fertik in Harvard Business Review stated that 75 percent of employers actively research candidates online, going so far as to mine a candidate’s social media, shopping profile and online gaming habits. Moreover, studies “show further that more than 70 percent have decided NOT to hire a candidate based on what they’ve found.” If this was true four years ago, it is even more prevalent today.

While public discretion is important to our careers, discretion in our private lives is also key to maintaining good relationships. A healthy marriage often involves knowing when to be honest and when it’s best to keep the mouth shut. The same goes for interactions with children, extended family and friends.

As I sometimes remind my children, being an honest person is quite different from sharing every thought that pops into our heads. If what we say or do is going to cause harm to another person, don't say it.

When I think of my personal role models, nearly all of them have learned the power of discretion. I think of my father, from whom I’ve never heard a flippant or unkind remark. I think of a former elementary school director who maintained an incredibly professional presence despite the actions of some parents to bring her down. I have long admired public persons such as author J.K. Rowling who use great discretion in how much of their lives they bare before the voyeuristic masses.

So much of our modern-day dialogue devolves to insults, crude remarks or simply mindless banter. Showing discretion means being willing to have a decent exchange of ideas without resorting to stereotypes and a loss of emotional control.

If your current Facebook feed is similar to mine, you know that it’s an absolute minefield of political opinion. I see friends and family jabbing at one another with words, creating wounds that will last long after the red or blue confetti of Nov. 8 is swept away.

If we want our society to stay relevant and functional into the future, we need to think right now about how we parcel out our words and actions.

Discretion isn’t just for young gentlemen. It’s for all of us.

Tiffany Gee Lewis runs the website Raise the Boys at, dedicated to rearing creative, kind, courageous and competent boys. Follow it on Instagram and Twitter at raisetheboys. Email:


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