Part One of Rebuilding Trust Between Parents and Teens
This is the second part of an article about "Rebuilding Trust Between Parents and Teens" - if you haven't read the first part, click here to read it now
With years of experience reconnecting families through SageWalk's wilderness program, PJ Swan has put together the following steps parents can take to rebuild trust after it has been broken.
Step 1: Open the lines of communication.
"Ask your child open-ended questions about what trust is, how it was broken, and what steps can be taken to rebuild those bonds," recommends Swan. "Rather than assuming everyone knows what trust is, decide collectively on a family definition of trust, try to understand each other's perspective, and clear up any misunderstandings up front."
Families should discuss the fact that trust is a two-way street and that both parent and child have responsibilities in the process of reconnecting. For example, a teen may ask his parent to knock before entering his room and the parent may agree, but in return ask the child to leave the door open at certain times or limit the amount of time the teen spends in front of the computer or television. As the family negotiates these rules and boundaries, schedule regular meetings to discuss your progress and evaluate any setbacks.
Step 2: Show them how building trust benefits them.
When parents trust their child, everyone benefits. Trust breeds safety and allows the child more autonomy and a sense of personal power. Learning how to establish and maintain trust also serves teens as they grow into adulthood and cultivate trusting, respectful relationships with bosses, friends, and significant others.
"Since teens tend to be somewhat self-absorbed, you may need to explain the concrete ways in which a trusting relationship will benefit your child," says Swan. For example, a teen may earn greater privileges like a later curfew, permission to drive the family car more often, more time with friends, or the freedom to go on that trip he has been planning. "By explaining how trust is relevant to him, how it can make life at home more peaceful and supportive, and how it can improve his life in general, he's more likely to stay motivated to do the hard work."
Step 3: Identify and discuss specific behaviors that will build trust.
Telling a child to "act her age" or "do the right thing" won't give her the information she needs to win your trust. Instead, give her specific benchmarks that will create a roadmap for success. For instance, set a curfew and tell her that coming home on time helps build trust. Explain that while behaviors like cursing, slamming doors, ignoring homework assignments, and talking back will diminish trust, behaviors like finishing chores on time, getting good grades, and calling to check in at a designated time will increase trust.
Step 4: Validate and reinforce your child's efforts.
When your child meets your expectations, verbally reinforce those positive behaviors by acknowledging her efforts. Show your appreciation with a simple "thank you" or pat on the back, and offer additional privileges and rewards as she becomes more trustworthy. If your child is doing the hard work to rebuild trust and isn't receiving positive feedback, she will assume you, the parent, haven't changed at all. She will feel discouraged, wonder why it matters if she behaves responsibly, and eventually give up.
Remember, there will always be bumps in the road to rebuilding trust. The family may be making progress and suddenly something happens to break trust down again. The ups and downs are all important parts of the process, and even small failures can result in stronger bonds. "Sometimes teens need to take one step back before taking the next step forward," says Swan. "For the family's sake, both parents and teens need to be willing to try and try again."
Parents only want the best for their children. As an adult with more responsibilities and more life experience, trust that you are in the best position to make healthy choices for your family. Even if both parent and child are working hard to rebuild trust, both parties must set reasonable expectations of themselves and others. Trust grows slowly, block by block with every good decision that is made.
"Trust-building is not an end in and of itself," says Swan. "It is an ongoing process of renegotiation and personal and collective growth that is required in every relationship. With communication, patience, and a little faith, you can heal old, painful memories and past hurts and replace them with loving bonds and hope for a brighter future."