Mom, Why Won’t You Trust Me?


helping teens build trust

Never will you feel more out of control than when you are raising teenagers. Children blossoming toward adulthood can strike fear into even the most calm and confident parents. I remember when my oldest passed her driver’s test. She now had the power to take herself places and do whatever was in her heart to do. And, like all of us, I wanted to use control to manage my fears.

But she was a trustworthy girl who had proven herself over time. Unless she gave me reason to mistrust her, I had to relinquish control and allow her to grow through her own choices. But what if your child hasn’t proven to be trustworthy? Part of our role as parents is helping teens build trust and develop strong decision-making skills. Here are 5 ways to get started.

Pay attention to the little things.

Are your teens faithful to complete their chores without being asked? Do they go where they say they are going and return on time? Do they share with you about their lives and relationships? If the answer is yes, there is little reason not to trust them to hang out at the football game with friends. But if they are not following through on their responsibilities or are keeping you on the outside of their personal lives, you’ve been presented with an opportunity to have a conversation about trust. This is also a time to withhold privileges until more trust has been built.

Celebrate the good.

When life is hectic, it’s easy to forget to acknowledge a job well done. If all conversations are corrective, children may feel like they can’t do anything right. When you acknowledge trustworthy behavior, you’re helping teens build trust in themselves. Let them know you saw that they did their homework without being asked or that they came home on time. Tell them you appreciate that they completed the list of chores you left for them. An “atta boy” or “atta girl” is always encouraging and motivational.

Don’t assume.

Assumptions are setups for conflict. Haven’t we all had jobs that were not clearly defined and led to undeserved discipline? When I was in my early twenties, I worked for a dispatch company. The boss had expectations of me but never expressed them. The only time I understood some of my responsibilities was when I didn’t do them and got in trouble. Eventually, they fired me. If they had given me a clear list of my duties, I would have completed them. The same rules apply here. Make sure teens know what is expected of them so they aren’t learning only when they fall short.

Be trustworthy.

Our kids won’t adhere to our guidelines if we don’t stick to them, too. To the best of our abilities, it’s important to do what we say we will do. Under-promise and over-deliver. Be on time to pick them up. Be home when you tell them you will be. Unexpected things happen to all of us. This should be the exception and not the norm. Follow through on things you’ve agreed you will do. This will foster the same trait in your kids.

Admit when your fears are unmerited.

Unless they’ve given you a reason not to trust your teens, you should trust what you have instilled in them over the years. If irrational fear is creeping up in you as they step out into new things, talk to someone. You can even have a conversation with yourself about why your fears are unwarranted. Don’t allow your own poor choices as a teen to influence how you view your children. Rehearse to yourself all the trustworthy behaviors you’ve seen in them. And stay connected with them. Take time to hang out together. Helping teens build trust is a building block for healthy adulthood.

In what ways do you help your teen build trust with you?

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