The Dynamics Of Trust Between Parents and Teens

Father and teenage son fishing

Building teen trust can be hard at times. Your teenagers are experiencing a transitional stage of life, enjoying more freedom than they had during childhood, and the taste of freedom can be addictive. As the parent, you place a certain amount of trust in your teen, hoping they will not abuse their freedom. But sometimes poor choices are made and that trust is broken.

I understand dealing with the shifting dynamics of trust between parents and teens can be difficult. As I have advised many parents of troubled teens, I have compiled some advice for you parents out there who are struggling with trusting your own teens.

When Teens Initially Break Trust

When your teen breaks your trust, whether due to coming home after curfew or becoming suspended from school, there are things you should do immediately after the offense.

  • Remain calm – I understand this can be hard, especially if you have been having a lot of difficulty with your teen. If you need to walk away from the situation to maintain your calm, do so. Lashing out with anger at your teen will just create a greater rift between the two of you.
  • Assess misconduct – Neglecting chores to hang out with friends shouldn’t be held to the same level as being caught abusing drugs. Once you contextualize the depth of the problem, you can better understand what steps to take next.

Once you have control of your feelings and have assessed the level of the offense, you are ready to move onto dealing with the broken bond of trust.

Handling Discipline

Your teen may have broken your trust in them, but can they still trust you as their authority figure? While family conflict can be triggering and make it hard to maintain fair and even discipline after they break your trust, you still need to keep your end of the trust bond intact.

Some of the things you may want to do to keep the trust strong:

  • Set consequences – I like to advocate the setting of consequences for first-time offenses. If parents never addressed a potential problem with the teen before it became an issue, the first offense should be dedicated to a discussion, setting consequences for future misconduct in this vein, and perhaps a light punishment (short-term privilege removal).
  • Follow through – If your teen knew the consequences of their actions before they broke trust, then it is your job to follow through with the outlined consequences. Make sure you don’t add or subtract from the punishment without already outlining when an addition or subtraction may happen. While your teen may not like being held accountable, they will learn they can trust your word.

Rebuilding Trust In Your Teen

Post-trust breaking can be a sensitive time for parents. You want to trust your child again, but the betrayal of their breaking trust can make it difficult to fully extend your trust to them again. I like to recommend:

  • Family time – Building positive memories as a family by engaging in activities (day trips, sporting events, crafting together) can help replace some of the damage done when your teen broke your trust.
  • Let go – You can’t hold a grudge against your teen. Well, you can but it defeats the purpose of disciplining your child. The discipline sets the expectations under which trust is regained. If your teen follows through with the discipline, you need to follow through by letting the hurt go and trusting your teen again.

It can be hard being the bigger person and extending the hand of trust to your erring teen, but from your example, your teen can learn how to handle the tricky dynamics of trusting relationships.

Tyler Clark is a proud father, husband, writer and outreach specialist with experience helping parents and organizations that help troubled teen boys. Tyler has focused on helping through honest advice and humor on: modern day parenting, struggles in school, the impact of social media, addiction, mental disorders, and issues facing teenagers now.

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