A breach in trust by your teen can cause trust issues between you and your teen and it can be difficult to begin trusting him or her again. One motto that many parents have is that teens need to earn trust in order to have privileges. Once that trust is broken, however, how can you help your teen earn it back? And how can you, as a parent, move past actions that might have been very serious and potentially (or actually) harmful to your teen or to others? Here are some tips on helping your teen earn your trust back, as well as on getting past your own emotions and anxieties in order to resolve trust issues with your teen.
1. Give It Time
The trust that you had for your teen was built up over 14 or 16 years; it wasn’t an immediate feeling. It’s natural that kids and teens stumble sometimes by doing dumb things, so understand that even though this latest breach might feel enormous, you’ve gotten past temporary breaches in trust before. Whether it was your younger child saying he or she did homework when they actually chose not to or your teen forgetting to put dinner in the oven when they said they would, you’ve gotten past thoughtless and childish behavior before.
If your teen has broken trust by, for example, driving drunk or shoplifting, it’s a bigger deal than skipping out on homework and it will take more time to get past it. That being said, it’s entirely possible to resolve these trust issues and for your teen to regain your trust again. Be sure you convey to your child that you would like to rebuild the trusting relationship you once had, and that it will take effort on both of your parts.
2. Have a Serious Conversation
In order to resolve your trust issues and for you to feel comfortable trusting your teen again, it’s important that you both are on the same page. Once the high emotions of the incident in question have mostly passed, have a talk about exactly what happened that breached your trust. For example, if your teen took your car without asking and was in an auto accident, he or she might think you’re upset over the banged-up car. This may very well be the case but chances are good that you’re also (or more) upset that they took the car without asking in the first place. If your teen had a beer at a party and lied about where they were spending the evening, you are likely more upset about the lying than about the alcohol experimentation.
Be clear about the major issues. It’s possible that your teen is looking more at the outcome of the incident (and saying, “it all turned out fine!”) and less at the behaviors leading up to the outcome. It’s also common for teens to get carried away in the rush of hormones released during exhilarating experiences and might not understand the gravity of their lack of self-control.
3. Inspect What You Expect
It’s reasonable that there might be a period of intense supervision or grounding following an incident. It’s unreasonable to think that it will last for months or years. At some point in the near future, you’re going to have to extend at least some trust to your teenager. To get past the fear in the pit of your stomach, you’re going to have to give your teen explicit boundaries, and then check up on your teen to be sure that your rules are followed.
For example, if your teen is once again allowed to use the family car, your rule might be that he or she goes only to places that you have cleared first, and that they’re back by 11:00 pm. Check in with your teen via text every couple of hours to confirm that they are where they were supposed to be. If warranted, you can also use a location app on your teen’s phone or on the car to be sure that your child isn’t lying. Be sure to use this only temporarily and for the specific purpose of checking up on your child for his or her safety for the short term.
It’s a good idea to be open about whatever checking you are doing. Let your teen know that once trust has been rebuilt, you will not need to use the app or call his or her friends’ parents to be sure that your child is where he or she is supposed to be. Stress that it’s part of the process of rebuilding trust.
4. Expect Minor Setbacks
Your teen is working hard to resolve any trust issues and regain your trust, but remember that he or she is not perfect. The teenage brain might tell your child that they don’t need to text you if they run out to the store for more soda, even though letting you know where they are was part of the agreement. Remember also that you shouldn’t hold your teen’s normal teen-like behavior against them; if your teen is under restriction for lying about his or her whereabouts, something minor like forgetting to turn in a math assignment shouldn’t impact your trust. Set boundaries firmly, but don’t expect perfection.
5. Try Not to Take It Personally
It can be easy to see breaches in trust as a personal affront, but remember that your teen was most likely not thinking about how you would feel about the incident or situation when it was happening. Unless you have a solid reason to believe otherwise, it almost definitely was not aimed at you personally. Teens are still growing and developing, and they are not always able to make appropriate and good decisions. In fact, there is some evidence that a teen’s brain is not fully developed until the early 20s or even later. Remind yourself that your teen is still a child in some ways, and that bad decision-making is par for the course.
Learning to trust your teenager again after an episode or run of bad behavior can be a challenge, but it’s part of parenting many teens. Getting through trust issues will strengthen your relationship with your teenager. If you can’t seem to get past the breach or if your teen is unable to put the effort into rebuilding your trust, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A counselor can work with both of you to help you each do what you need to do to salvage and grow your relationship. Call your child’s doctor for a recommendation or referral if you don’t have a mental health care provider to turn to.