How to Build Trust with Your Teen
As a parent, you know that trust goes both ways. If your teen trusts you, they are more likely to come to you when they are in trouble or to ask for your help with something small, long before it becomes something big. If you trust your teen, you can feel confident that they are going to make the right decisions (most of the time) and you can worry less about them when they are out with the friends, driving the car, or simply making the big choices they have to make in life. But trust is also difficult to build and difficult to maintain. Here are a few ways to help build trust with your teens:
1. Don’t be a hypocrite.
If you constantly tell your child to settle their differences with their siblings or friends as calmly as possible, but you blow up at your teen, other children, or spouse at the first sign of controversy, they are going to start to see you as a hypocrite. When you give advice, you have to make sure that it is advice that you are willing to live by, too. Your teen is watching you closely. As a child, they thought you could do no wrong. As a teenager, they have started to learn that you are a person just like anyone else. Not practicing what you preach is going to quickly degrade any bond of trust you two might have had.
2. Listen to what they have to say.
The best way to learn about your teen and what is going on in his life? Actually listen to what he has to say. It might sound really boring to listen to him talk about the video game that he and his friends play, but if you are dismissive, he is going to sense that and be less likely to trust you with information about his life in the future. When a teen does not feel like you care about their life at all, they are going to start to pull away from you. This can be extremely dangerous, especially because they will likely start to take actions that further erode your mutual trust.
3. Don’t lie to your teen.
Sometimes there will simply be information that they are not ready to hear. Most of the time, however, telling your teen the truth will set the foundation for that teen to also tell you the truth. While you might not actually be on even footing (you are still the parent and he is still your child), when you are open and honest with your teen, they are more likely to feel that they can be open and honest with you. This is the ultimate bond of trust and one that very few parents achieve with their teens. While there have to be consequences for mistakes or bad decisions, your child should not be so afraid of those consequences that he avoids telling you the truth.
4. Follow up with consequences.
When your teen breaks your trust, there needs to be a real consequence. While coming in a few minutes late, after curfew might not be that big of a deal and might not require anything more than a reminder about what time curfew is, when they do something that serious violates your trust, a consequence should be enacted. For example, if he is an hour late for curfew, a sensible punishment might be to take away his driving privileges for the rest of the weekend or for next weekend. How does this build trust? Not only does your teen trust that there are going to be real consequences when he does something wrong, he also becomes more trustworthy and therefore less likely to do something wrong, because the consequences are real.
5. Be on their side.
Nothing will break trust with your teen faster than taking someone else’s side before even hearing theirs. For example, if your teen gets into a fight at school, this is obviously a bad thing and something you want to punish your teen for. However, if he gets into a fight because he was defending a younger classmate from a bully, this is a different situation altogether. Give him the opportunity to tell his side of the story and, as often as is prudent, be on his side. If something unjust really is happening to your teen, be willing to stand up for them, just as you would hope that they would stand up for injustice on their own.
6. Try to keep your emotions reigned in.
I would often avoid telling my parents about a bad grade or some similar, even small offense, because I was afraid that they would get unduly angry. While there is a place for anger, again, your child should not be so afraid of your reaction that they do not feel that they can come to you and tell you something that they have done and need help with. This is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. First of all, do not take things personally. Most of the time, your teen is not acting out intentionally to harm you. Second of all, they usually already understand that they did something wrong. They do not need to be yelled at for an hour in order to understand that what they did was not good.
If you want to build and maintain trust with your teenager, using these tips will help develop that mutual bond of trust that will make both of you happier.