Learning to Trust Your Teen
One of the signs that teens are ready to enter the world of adulthood is that they become trustworthy people, which is literally “worthy of trust.” When young adults have the habits of following through on commitments, telling the truth and being dependable, they are on their way to a great career, a successful marriage and a healthy life. When they do not have these habits, they will have struggle and failure in the years ahead. One of the jobs of parents of teens is to help teens develop trustworthiness and then to trust that teen as well.
My point here is that you should never trust your teen simply because you want to be a parent who is nice, positive and hopeful. Trusting adolescents who lie or do not follow up on promises teaches them that, “I can say and do what I want, and people will still trust me.” This is not a lesson to launch a teen into life. The reality is that in parenting and in all relationships, here is the principle: “Love is free, and trust is earned.” Love is free: you should love your teen unconditionally. Your teen needs your love to survive. Parents should always be “for” their teens, no matter what. But trust is another matter. Teens, like everyone, should prove that they can be trusted with cars, money, attitudes and curfews. If they can’t handle these matters, you need to pull the reins in and allow less freedoms until they show that they can handle responsibility better.
For example, just because teens are 16 years old does not mean automatically that they should be allowed to drive or date. If they have the character maturity of a 10-year-old, they should be allowed the freedoms of that age. This is not meant to sound negative at all. It is meant to show protection and reality for your kids.
Jesus even said that people should hold Him to the same standard of trust and belief: “Do not believe me unless I do what my father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the father is in me, and I in the father (John 10:37, 38).” He submitted Himself to having people evaluate His actions to see if He was truly who He said He was.
So, when teens have broken trust by deception or irresponsibility, how do you learn to trust them again?
Here is a way to make it happen:
Give teens a specific path. If they have lied or not followed through, push the “do over” button and say, “I want you to earn the privilege to do X again (drive a car, go out at night, etc.). Right now, you don’t have that privilege, because your behavior has been untrustworthy. So for a period of time (one week, a month, whatever is appropriate), you can’t do X. After that, we will try it again on a limited basis (short drives, earlier curfew), and will see how it goes for a month. This is a probationary period. We hope you do great! After that period, if all goes well, we will give you the privilege again. That means we now trust you again. We hope we’ll never have reason to not trust you again.”
You must follow up on this. Caving in will be even more hurtful to your adolescent’s development. Set a reasonable path and execute it, even it you get tantrums and attitude!
When you trust, be “all in.” When teens show themselves to do it the hard way and earn trust, parents need to truly trust them. Don’t nag and remind them of the past. Don’t change your mind. Give them the car keys, money or freedom unreservedly. They have earned it. If they relapse, tighten up again. But it doesn’t help to have a parent who has not gotten over the last event. Let it go, and look to the future.
Trustworthiness is a great quality. Be that yourself, and instill it in your teen.