Trust. A big word with sometimes more immense implications. Trust is often a challenge for parents and teens. Although a healthy relationship requires building and continuing to foster trust, it can be challenging for parents to “let go” enough for teens to prove trust is earned and possible. As your toddler grows into a teenager, it can be challenging to find the delicate balance between keeping them safe and accommodating their growing need for independence and privacy. Building trust with and in your teen can be challenging, but it is essential to a healthy, open relationship.
Why is Building Trust with your Teen Important?
The ability to build, foster, and have trust are essential life skills your teen will need. For your teen to successfully transition through childhood into adulthood, they need to know that you will be there to provide support and guidance. This trust must be mutual. Not only do they need to trust in you, but you need to trust in them. For mutual trust to be possible, you and your teen must find a way to rust in each other.
This is not to say trust will not be tested, but the more often it is, the longer it takes to find a middle ground where you and your teen can be confident in each other’s decisions. A relationship without trust leads to consistent emotional challenges as you both question everything each other says or does.
What are the Benefits of Building Trust with Your Teen?
There are several benefits to building a healthy, trusting relationship with your teen. In addition to reducing your stress and anxiety whenever they leave home, you may notice other significant improvements in your relationship. Perhaps, the most important benefit is that your teen will feel more open and comfortable coming to you about difficult things. It can be challenging for teens to open up to parents about problems or worries they have. If your teen trusts you, they may come to you for suggestions before turning to another peer who may not provide the soundest advice.
Another benefit is that building and maintaining a trusting relationship with a parent or guardian will help your teen learn how to demonstrate positive, trustworthy behaviors in other aspects of their lives. This is a vital skill for trust-building in positive relationships in the future.
Ways to Build Trust in Your Teen
As previously mentioned, trust is a two-way street built on a foundation of strong, open communication. Once earned, trust can continue to grow, erode, or even disappear depending on your ongoing interactions. There are several things you can do to build lasting trust with your teen. Below are four suggestions.
Set Clear Expectations
It can be difficult at best to develop and maintain trust when confusion exists regarding what trust looks like in your family. It is essential to understand what each of you expects. Talk to your teen about what trust means to them and explain what trust means to you. Ask for and provide examples of what broken trust may look like and what types of circumstances may cause broken trust. Above all, don’t assume your teen knows or understands what you expect trust to look like.
It is also important to “live up” to the expectations you set. Consider the adage, “Say what you do and do what you say.” If you set forth expectations and ask your teen to abide by them, you need to do so as well. Yes, you are the adult, but it is essential to remember that your teen will look to you for guidance and support as they navigate this challenging time in their lives.
Be a Model of Trustworthiness
Your actions will indeed speak louder than words. If your teen sees you acting or behaving dishonestly, they will struggle to understand how expectations apply to them. If your teen witnesses you break someone’s trust (or breaking theirs), they will struggle to act trustworthy or feel as though they can trust you. As parents, it is vital to remember our teens are watching us, whether we realize it or not. They will learn from your actions and, in many cases, mimic them.
Consistency is important. You must provide consistency with feedback, consequences, rewards, and expectations. Part of trust-building is the ability to maintain a consistency your teen can rely on. Even if they may not appreciate all aspects of your consistency, they will still feel confident they can expect the same outcome from specific situations.
For example, if you set a specific expectation for your teen, it is essential to follow through with proposed consequences should your teen fail to complete their end of the task. If you ask your teen to clear the family table after dinner and load the dishwasher before playing video games and they do not do so, it is vital to apply consequences as promised. Otherwise, it will decrease their trust in you to be consistent. Take a moment to explain the advantages and disadvantages of trust loss. A teen’s understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of a trusting relationship is a decisive motivating factor to remain devoted to fulfilling family expectations.
Increase Freedom slowly
Earning trust takes time. Your teen will inevitably make mistakes along the way, and that is ok. They may not always see the potential consequences between a decision they make and the potential consequences of their decision. The process of gaining trust is a learning experience. Give your teen a chance to earn and maintain trust in increments. Without practice making good decisions and appreciating the feedback for those decisions, your teen is at a greater risk for irresponsible behavior. Time, patience, and experience will allow your teen to test new freedoms, learn what the expectations are related to those freedoms, and build trust with you related to those freedoms.
Rebuilding Trust After It’s Broken
As you loosen restrictions and provide new, greater freedoms, it is vital to remember your teen will inevitably make mistakes. Some mistakes may be small and others larger. Try to prepare yourself for when this happens, so you are not disappointed, caught off guard, or defeated. Take a moment to develop a response to their mistakes and use it as a teachable moment.
If the mistake was minor, talk with them about what consequences for those actions may look like. If the mistake was significant (skipping school, drinking, etc.), it might be harder to continue trusting in your teen. Before assuming your teen does not respect you or your expectations, remember that teen development takes time, and so does their ability to actively reason through their decisions. Scientifically speaking, your teen’s brain is not fully developed yet. The frontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls emotional regulation, planning, and decision making, is not fully developed until one reaches age 25. That said, although they likely realize their decision is wrong, they may not clearly understand the consequences that may result from their actions. In the presentation “Executive Function & Self-Regulation,” Harvard Researchers explained it best.
“Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”
This means that while trying to learn how to gain your trust, your teen is also working to overcome the challenges of biological development. Teens are focused on establishing independence from their parents at a time when they may not foresee the impacts of their actions. It is important to allow your teen to make mistakes and experience the consequences of those mistakes will guide them towards better, healthier decisions in the future.
A critical factor in helping your teen build back trust is to involve them in the process. Brainstorm together ways you can work as a team to repair the damage to your relationship. Deciding on ideas together may make rebuilding trust easier as you are both focused on and dedicated to a similar goal.
If you and your teen struggle to achieve this together, consider reaching out to the team at Beachside. Individual and family therapy sessions may help you and your teen better understands the struggles you feel with giving, earning, and maintaining trust. In some cases, struggles with trust stem from past experiences with broken or lost trust. Speaking to a therapy provider who is a neutral third party can provide an opportunity to explore the roots of trust challenges further while learning and practicing better ways to manage struggles with trust in your family.
At Beachside Teen Treatment Center in Malibu, our family therapy programs are designed to help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts. If trust challenges or broken trust have led to communication struggles, we can help. Family therapy programs are often short-term. Depending on your family’s needs, sessions may include all family members or just those who are willing or wanting to participate. The length and treatment models used will depend on your family’s unique needs and goals. During family therapy sessions, your treatment team will help you and your teen learn and practice vital skills to enhance family connections, overcome stress and open the doors to communication.
Trust is a challenging, valuable thing. The process of gaining, giving, and maintaining trust may seem like an overwhelming challenge. If you and your teen struggle to communicate or repair broken trust, help is here in Malibu. Let our caring and compassionate treatment team help you learn to work together again. Reach out to our admissions team today to learn more about family therapy and how we can help.