A Roadmap to Rebuild Trust With Your Teen

Let’s face it. Teens do some crazy things at times. I did some stupid things as a teen. You probably did too. And, our teens probably will as well. They may do one thing we never thought in a million years they would do; and, in so doing, break our trust. It may be simple, like staying out past their curfew. Or, it may be more serious, like getting caught with drugs or sending a revealing picture to the “new love of their life” (or convincing their “new love” to send the picture). Whatever it is, big or small, it shatters the trust we once had for our sweet, innocent child. We discipline and work to assure the behavior won’t happen again. But how do we rebuild the trust we once had? How do we begin to trust our teen again?

  • Be open with your teen. Explain your feelings to your teen. Let them know their behavior hurt you. You may have sounded angry, but underneath the anger was hurt and disappointment. Explain your desire to trust them again and your continued love for them. Let them know you recognize their potential and believe in their ability to reach that potential. Recall times in which your teen has acted in ways that built trust and increased your pride in them. Let them know you still remember those positive behaviors as well.
  • Develop a balanced view of your teen. Recall the positive things your teen has done and said that give you a sense of joy and pride in order to balance any feelings of disappointment and hurt you may have experienced. Remember, you have also done wonderful things and things of which you are not proud. Allow your teen the same freedom.
  • Deal with your feelings. You have talked to your teen, now deal with your own emotions. They are your feelings and your responsibility. Don’t let your emotions interfere with your changing relationship with your teen. Resolve them. 
  • Clarify boundaries and expectations…but be careful as you do. Do not set up unrealistic expectations in a knee-jerk reaction to the behavior that broke your trust. Be reasonable. Discuss limits and boundaries with another adult to get a more objective viewpoint. Discuss them with your teen as well. Work to reach an agreement on what constitutes reasonable expectations for your home and family.
  • Develop a clear roadmap for regaining trust and watch your teen’s journey on that road to redemption. When your teen meets an expectation or follows a rule, make a point to notice it and allow it to enhance your trust in them. Realize no teen is perfect, so allow for some  minor setbacks. A rule of thumb is to allow your teen 1 setback for 5-6 trust building actions you observe. Keep your eyes open for those trust building actions. Don’t let them slip by unnoticed.  
  • Take a risk. Parents have the tendency to hold their teen closer and micromanage their every activity after trust has been broken. Unfortunately, this only increases frustration. It leads to greater conflict and a further deterioration of trust. Rather than micromanage, allow your teen to engage in a “trial run.” Explain the “trial run” to your teen. “I am trusting you with this job or activity. When all goes well and they return, you will have nurtured trust. If you revert to the behavior that originally broke our trust, you will have further damaged our trust.”
  • Finally, talk about other stuff. Don’t continue repeating the conversation about your fears and their behavior. Find some areas of interest to talk about. If they enjoy music, talk about music. If they enjoy fishing, talk about fishing. Find areas in which you can enjoy conversation with your teen. Doing so will build relationship and trust.

These 7 actions are not simple. But they will help rebuild trust with your teen and deepen your relationship with them.

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