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What If You Can’t Trust Your Teen?

When your teen has lied and deceived you more times than you can count, it’s hard to believe a single word he or she says. You might wonder if there’s any hope of ever rebuilding the trust in your relationship. In this article, I’ll give parents some reliable guidelines for dealing with dishonest teens and a pathway to build back trust.


What is Trust?
Trust is a feeling based on your experiences and interactions with another person. Trusting your teen means you believe your teen is going to do what he says he will do, and that he’s not going to the things he has promised not to do. It is a sense of integrity that is believable. Your teen needs to learn the importance of being trustworthy.


“I Trust That My Teens Are Going to Break My Trust”
Teens don’t want you to think badly about them. They don’t want consequences. They will lie and sneak behind your back to get what they want and avoid difficult interactions. So you can trust that your teen will break your trust. The sooner you understand this, the better prepared you will be to respond when it happens. Don’t take it personally. Instead of being shocked when your teen violates your trust, take it as an opportunity to talk to your teen about the importance of trust in relationships and why breaking trust is a big deal.


“The Issue Isn’t Me Trusting My Teen. It’s My Teen Trusting Me.”
Your teen may not agree with you. They may not like the decisions you are making for them. But your teen needs to trust you, even when she disagrees. As your teen takes on more responsibility and new independence, she will have to decide whether or not she will respect the boundaries you’ve put in place. I encourage parents not to wait until your teen demands more freedom, but rather be willing to create ways to give your teen more and more chances to prove they will do what they say they will do. Affirm them when they follow through and when they don’t, be ready to enforce the consequences. These opportunities are about training your teen to make good decisions and understand how trust impacts relationships.


“It’s Not My Job to Trust My Teen. It’s My Teen’s Job to Get Me to Trust Him.”
No parent should blindly trust their teen. It’s the teen’s job to lead a life that allows people to trust him. A trustworthy teen gives his parents a sense of security and lack of worry. Even when he makes a mistake, he will quickly admit his fault. So let your teen show you that he can be trusted. Explain how your teen can earn more responsibility and more privileges by keeping his word. Show your teen that trust is an asset he can use to get more of what he wants––greater freedom and independence. As they navigate their new-found freedom, teens have an opportunity to show themselves to be trustworthy. Building trust is a key to success in your teen’s future friendships, career, and relationships.


Things to Remember About Trust
If you stay involved with your teen, then you will have the opportunity to help develop the trustworthy habits of responsibility, integrity, and confessing quickly. Don’t expect your teen to get it right all the time. Instead, train them how to handle their mistakes by owning up. No matter what, keep loving your teen. Show them a good example by admitting when you are wrong and creating an atmosphere at home that encourages honest conversations. Then, encourage your teen to try again. As they grow, offer them more and more chances to follow through on their commitments. Remember that trust is a habit that gets easier as it is practiced. You are training your teen to handle real life relationships, responsibilities, and situations. So create opportunities for your teen to flex their trust muscles.


Hey moms and dads … trust is something your teen is responsible to show you. It’s not your role to try to figure out how to trust them. It’s their responsibility to show you that they can be trusted. Trust isn’t necessarily built upon a mistake-free life, but rather an atmosphere that allows teens to share their mistakes, blunders, when they blow it, or don’t live up to the expectations. If they will admit their mistakes, you have a great opportunity to share your wisdom to help train them to not make the same mistake twice. Show them the benefits of confession, by admitting your own mistakes, by sharing when you blew it and where you made wrong decisions. That atmosphere will create an arena of trust where your teen can use your wise counsel to grow and learn when they make mistakes.

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.