Trust is Key in Parent-Teen Relationships


trustLast week’s column was written for teens, to help them to understand parent’s behavior. We talked about the adult’s need to protect and set limits as an extension of the caring that began when children were younger. There is another reason why parents may not let you do all of the things that you want, and it has to do with trust.

If we were only dealing with presumed over-protectiveness by parents, there might be room to reas­sure them and negotiate some reasonable changes. However, if trust is an issue, then things become much more complicated.

Let’s presume, for example, that you have skipped school, been involved in shoplifting, repeatedly come in later than the agreed time, lied about where you would be or with whom, or are doing poorly in school due to the lack of time spent studying. These things seriously erode the trust that adults have in you.

They would frankly much rather have you at home so they know what you are doing. If you think about this honestly, you will understand how a par­ent would feel this way. You would not trust someone who lied to you or deceived you. In this case, trying to make them feel guilty for setting limits is your way of manipulating them.

Refusing to change your behavior and hassling parents because they won’t tolerate unacceptable be­havior is saying “I’ll do whatever I please and you can’t stop me!” This is guaranteed to set up a power struggle, and in most power struggles everybody loses.

Parents do have a right to set limits as long as children are living in their home. But what if, al­though you may have made some mistakes in the past, you have changed and know you can be trusted, but your parents don’t believe it? How does one rebuild trust after it has been lost? Well, it can be done, but it takes time and patience.

First, you must be able to talk nicely and stay calm. Angry outbursts in the middle of discussions make parents think you were only acting nice to gel what you want. You need to listen, without arguing, to their point of view, and show them that you un­derstand how they feel. Let them know that you want to earn back their trust, and ask how you could do that.

Of course the main thing is your attitude. If you have this talk about trust and then punch your little brother on the way upstairs, or throw a tantrum when they ask you to do dishes after supper, you are blowing your case. You may think these things have nothing to do with being allowed to stay out later, but trust me, in the parent’s mind there is a direct con­nection. They generalize immature behavior in one area to all the other areas of your life.

In case you think there is no justice, fortunately the reverse is also true. If you being to act with greater maturity in other areas of you life, your par­ents may generalize this behavior to the areas where you really want more responsibility.

It’s about growing up. And it’s about making peace. It’s worth a try.

Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.
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