“Why can’t you just trust me!”
“You don’t trust me!”
“My friends parents trust their kids!”
Has your teen verbally hurled these questions at you?
Before talking about building trust with teens, I want to validate how difficult that can be for a parent. It’s hard for parents to watch bad things happen to their teens. A parent’s instinct is to protect. Parents are well aware of the dangers in this world waiting to swallow their teen whole. At one time, all parents of teens had their own teenage career, and can remember how fearless, impulsive and sneaky they were. When parenting teens, those teenage memories pop up and play in front of a parent’s eyes like it was yesterday, especially when their teen asks to get in a car with a 16 year old friend who just got their license.
Teens deserve trust from their parents. They deserve to experience life their parents watchful and experienced eye. I’m not saying never say “No” or to let them do everything and anything they want…
I’m saying don’t be a Helicopter parent, a Mr./Ms. Fix It parent or a Lawnmower parent.
By offering trust, parents have an opportunity to model what trust is and all it’s delicate concepts. Teens, in turn, have an opportunity to be accountable, responsible, problem solve, and learn the gentle process of repairing trust (because they WILL make mistakes).
3 Key Ways to Build Trust With Your Teen:
1. Trust they know what they want or don’t want when interacting in the world.
Trust they believe they know WHAT they want, WHO they want to be and who they don’t want to be. Trust they have likely determined whether they are introverted or extroverted, social or anti-social, friendly or shy, swears or censors, loud or quiet, approachable or intimidating, opinionated or observant, judgmental or not, a smiler or a resting ‘B’ face wearer.
Humans get to create their own personality and how they want to interact with other humans. The teenage years are the years to begin experimenting with constructing a personality, relationships, behaviors, engagement, etc. They and only they get to decide what how they will interact in this world. Constant parental instruction on ‘how‘ teens ‘should‘ act, look, engage with others may conflict with what teens want for themselves.
Constant parental instruction risks teaching teens they can’t trust themselves. It sends the message their parents are rejecting who they are and pressuring them to be someone else; which teaches teens to develop habits that seek approval from others instead of from themselves, therefore making their confidence and value dependent upon others approval.
As parents, we have to consider what message we want to send when we choose not to trust our teens to know what will work for them when it comes to interacting in the world.
2. Trust that they aren’t as negatively influenced by ‘bad influences‘ as you think.
Trust them to pick their friends. People don’t get to tell people who they can and can’t be friends with. Parents can caution, guide and offer insight, but cannot choose their teen’s friends. Certainly a parent can forbid their teen from hanging out with particular people, however that doesn’t always work and often blows up in parent’s faces.
Trust your teen to make their own decisions while being peer pressured by other teens. As parents we often worry about ‘bad influences‘, but let’s be real, it’s not the ‘bad influence‘ that MAKES another teen engage, that other teen made their own choice whether or not to engage.
Everyday, we are all confronted with ‘bad influences‘, and everyday we all make our own choices whether we will engage. Trust your teen to make healthy decisions for themselves, if they don’t, that’s a great opportunity to have a conversation. When parents attempt to remove ‘bad influences’ from their teen’s life, they rob their teen of the opportunity to make choices for themselves. Building the assertiveness and communication skills to handle difficult situations and peer pressure comes from actually experiencing those situations.
Instead of interrogating teens about a ‘bad influence’s‘ behaviors, habits, history, family, language, etc. Parents can choose to trust their teen to know what they do and don’t want to engage in; parents can trust their teen to learn from their experiences (sometimes, and likely, more than once).
The parents who tell their teen who they can and can’t be friends with, may or may not be surprised to find out their teen has already found sneaky ways to hang out with that ‘bad influence‘. Firm parental opposition typically makes it more enticing. We cannot protect our teens from making mistakes, all we can do is be there when they do and hope they learn from their mistake.
3. Trust them to know ‘right’ from ‘wrong’.
You’ve likely spent the better part of 12 years teaching your child ‘right’ from ‘wrong’. In addition to your strong influence, relatives and teachers have no doubt reinforced the idea of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. By the time a child is a teenager the chances of them having a solid understanding, and instinctual sense of ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ is something I would bet my savings on.
Therefore, you can trust your teenager knows ‘right’ from ‘wrong’. You can also trust they will not always make the ‘right’ choice. That’s okay! Teens NEED to make mistakes. If parents engage in helicoptering, fixing, or lawn-mowing parenting to prevent their teen from making mistakes, taking away all obstacles OR fixing their teen’s mistakes for them; they rob their teenagers of the opportunity to learn a lesson in choices, taking responsibility, taking accountability for their choice, problem solving a solution, communicating apologies and regret, and processing the experience to learn to avoid making that mistake in the future.
Trust that your teenager still needs your support, guidance and insight during or after making a mistake; but they also need your encouragement, faith and belief that they can resolve their mistake on their own or with your guidance.