Trusting Your Teen: Are You a Paranoid Parent?

Many people think that teens, in general, lie. They also believe that, for the most part, teenagers are up to no good. While it is true that teenagers go through an egocentric phase and have a hard time thinking about how their actions will affect themselves and others, it’s a misconception that they inevitably lie or that they cannot be trusted. When a parent does not trust a teen, it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy: Parents who don’t trust teens might be creating teens who cannot be trusted. Are you a paranoid parent? Read on to see how your actions as a paranoid parent might be impacting your teenager’s trustworthiness, as well as how you can build (or rebuild) trust with your adolescent.

What Is Your Teenager Doing?

It’s a hard truth to balance: In order to know what your teen is doing, you have to be involved. But if you are a paranoid parent and too involved, it’s likely that your teen will resort to lying about what he or she is doing. Why is this? Teens, like adults, want privacy. They also want to be able to make their own decisions and to have autonomy while they do so. Just as you don’t want to call your parents to let them know every intimate detail of your life, your teen doesn’t want you to know everything, either. With that being said, knowing where your teens are and that they are safe is one of your jobs as their parents.

Encouraging your teen to get involved in a school sport or activity is one way that you can keep tabs on what they’re doing. They will likely be at rehearsal, practice, or a meeting in the hours after school lets out. It’s also a good idea to get to know their friends. It’s reasonable to insist on meeting any teenager who will be driving your child, so you can have friends come in and say hello if you haven’t met them before. If you belong to a church or some other type of community, encourage your teen to get involved there, too. Teens who have a good sense of community are not only less likely to get into major trouble, but they are also being supervised, at least casually, by other adults, who can stop them from making bad choices if you are not right there.

Do You Have the Open Communication That Fosters Trust?

The only way to know for sure what your teen is up to is to hear it straight from them. Having good, open communication is important for a wide variety of reasons, and one of those reasons is so you can trust that your child is doing what they say they are doing. If your teen currently doesn’t talk to you much or you feel that you can’t trust him or her, what can you do?

Examine how you have reacted to your child’s communication and mistakes in the past. If you are a paranoid parent, you might have jumped to conclusions, delivered lengthy lectures, or given unfair consequences. In this case, you need to own those behaviors and talk to your teen about why you were wrong. When communicating with teens, you should provide a listening ear, refrain from judgement (except for cases when their health, safety, or future is truly at stake), and consider only age-appropriate consequences for misbehavior. As a teen gets older, natural and real-world consequences will begin to take the place of your parent-imposed consequences, so you’ll also need to allow for that and to support your teen through these consequences.

How Do You Respond to Breaches in Trust?

There are times, of course, when a parent must impose consequences on a teen. There are rules in every family that are non-negotiable. Make sure that yours are appropriate for the age of your child. Some appropriate rules might be about respecting others, not abusing drugs or alcohol, and the need for your teen to call home if they will be late or if plans change.

One way to avoid breaches in trust is to minimize micromanagement. Your teen is likely to lie and say that he or she did their homework if your rule is that homework must be done before they use their phone. If your teen doesn’t do homework when they’re supposed to, they’ll need to stay up late, get it done in the morning, or show up without it and explain to the teacher. This is not usually something you should be managing for a teen.

If trust is broken because your teen has lied or broken a major rule, however, then age-appropriate consequences should be imposed. In many cases, this will be a loss of privileges for a period of time. A shorter period is usually more effective than a longer period, because a teen who is grounded for a month is likely to simply blow off the punishment and break your trust again. It’s best to wait until you’re calm before trying to come up with a consequence, so don’t be afraid to tell your child that you need some time.

How Can You Rebuild Trust?

If you have a generally good relationship with your teenager, he or she might be strongly impacted by you simply telling them that they have broken your trust. It’s important to remain calm. Ask your teen what he or she thinks a good consequence should be for the lying or broken trust, in addition to the behavior that was against the rules in the first place. Let your teen know that they will need to earn your trust back, and give them a chance to do so.

If you are a paranoid parent and have a rocky relationship with your teen overall, however, a heart-to-heart talk might not be enough. Don’t be afraid to ask his or her doctor for a referral to a family counselor who can help you get to the root of the problem and build a trusting relationship. It’s never too late, so do this even if you have an older teen who will be an adult soon.

Parenting a teen is not for the faint of heart, and some days, you might have a hard time trusting them, particularly if your trust has been broken. Keep in mind that your goal is to raise your teenager into a functional and productive adult; while going through the teenage years with your trust intact is important and helpful, it’s not the end goal. Don’t be afraid to talk to a family therapist if your trust has been broken and you are having a hard time reconciling with your teenager. Also, if you tend to be a helicopter parent or paranoid parent, individual counseling might be in order. Talk to the parents of other teens and your child’s doctor if you have questions about what to expect during the adolescent years when it comes to lying, telling the truth, and trusting your teen.