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Picking Up the Pieces of Broken Trust

Motorcycle WreckI remember the day my dad brought home that shiny new motorcycle.  My brother and I couldn’t wait to hop on that hog and careen down the streets of our town.  But wisely, our father put the motorcycle in the garage and told us boys not to ride it unless he was there.  Well if you’re the parent of a teenage boy, you might see where this story is headed.  When my dad left one day, his car wasn’t halfway down the street before we pulled the forbidden vehicle out for a spin.  The result of our ill-conceived joy ride was my brother breaking his jaw, a friend breaking his ankle, and a busted air conditioning unit.  While a friend’s dad took the necessary people to hospital, I was given the unwelcome job of trying to smooth things over with my father.  It did not go well.  I had broken the trust my dad had given me.  After meting out the consequences, my dad sold the motorcycle and did not talk to my brother and I for close to three months.

Here’s the cold hard fact: kids will break your trust.  It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.  And when the inevitable disappointment comes, we have one of two options.  Either distance ourselves from the teenage offenders, or move closer to them.

Mistakes Will Happen

You can’t trust your child to always make good decisions.  But you can definitely trust your son or daughter to make mistakes.  But if you want move forward and get past the hurt of broken trust, you have to realize that your teenager is not perfect.  Now, that might sound too ridiculous to even mention.  Yet, when our child goes behind our back, breaks a promise, or blows it big time, we often react as if it’s the last thing we would have expected from them.  In reality, we should understand that growing up involves making mistakes.  This doesn’t mean you have bad kids.  It only proves that they are in need of a Savior, and a parent to help them get back on the right track.

God Finishes What He Starts

I’ve talked to numerous parents who’ve said, “Mark, my kid has disappointed me too many times.  It’s getting harder and harder to move past the hurt.  Will this ever get better?”  The answer is, “Yes, it will!”  Philippians 1:6 tells us that we can be confident of this; “He who began a good work… will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  God doesn’t leave His work half-done.  The job that God has started in the life of your teen will not be left unfinished.  Trust in the fact that though it may be hard for you to see how circumstances or family dynamics will improve, God is still at work, and He is not finished molding and shaping your child.

Give Another Chance

When your child breaks your trust, it’s difficult to allow them additional opportunities to show maturity.  Our natural reaction is to lock them in a room somewhere and throw away the key!  But picking up the pieces after mistakes are made requires us to give kids another chance.  And another chance.  And another chance after that.  Memorize the motto; “Forgive constantly. Forget quickly.  And forego reminding them of their mistakes.”  Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enforce the appropriate consequences for bad behavior.  Offering mercy doesn’t negate discipline.  But it does take away the option to withhold grace as a punishment.  Be a mom or dad who is always ready to extend a second, third, or fourth chance to a child who is willing to redeem himself.

Don’t Say This

Maybe your son or daughter is making use of those chances you’re giving him or her.  But as the mistakes are repeated again and again, you may wonder if your teen will ever turn the corner.  In those moments, refrain from saying anything like, “You’ll never change.”  Such a thought will crush any motivation your child has to make things right or get her life back in order.  Instead, be the parent who even in the midst of a mistake says, “I know you can turn this around.  You can make this right.”  Encouragements like this go a long way in building back a relationship of mutual trust.

Move Towards Them

Molly was a sweet little girl whose recent stay at our Heartlight residential center had been going well.  I had just taken her and some other girls out for dinner to celebrate a birthday, and the conversations around the table had been fun and encouraging.  One night, a week later, I was on my way out, when I saw Molly in my rear-view mirror, storming across the property in her pajamas with counselors hot on her trail.  I got out to see what I could do to help.  As I approached this visibly angry girl, whom I had grown to love and care for, she let loose with a string of hateful and bitter comments about how she hated me, hated this place, and how she was going to leave that night.  Molly really let me have it, holding nothing back as she told me what she really thought about me.  I was hurt, wounded, and confused, and didn’t sleep well that night.

The next morning, Molly was assigned yard duty for leaving her cabin at night.  As I walked past where she was raking leaves, she looked up, waved to me, and yelled, “Hi Mark!”  In that moment, my gut reaction was to walk away and let her feel the brokenness I was feeling.  But I remembered how I felt when my father ignored me for that motorcycle ride.  It tore me up inside.  So instead of walking away from Molly, I made the decision to walk towards her, hug her, and let her know I had forgiven her.

When it comes to picking up the pieces of broken trust, we need to practice grace.  We need to give our teens mercy and forgiveness even though they don’t deserve it.  Don’t wait for your teenager to come to you on humble knees.  Make the first move and let them know that though they’ve hurt you, you still want to maintain a close relationship with them.  Remind them that there’s nothing they could do to make you love them more, and there’s nothing they can do to make you love them less.

It tool me a long time to get over the emotions I felt after my father snubbed me over the mistakes I made.  It’s something I carried around for a long time.  Even though they may not show it, your teens are feeling guilty, shameful, or shattered over their mistakes as well.  This is your chance to offer them grace and take the broken pieces of trust and shape them into a stronger connection with your child.  Will your child break your trust?  You can count it.  Can you move past those hurts and disappointments and make your relationship with your teen stronger for it?  You bet.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at


Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.