If you have discovered your teen was dishonest, hiding things, taking dangerous risks, or associating with bad influences, the answer is probably yes! And you’re not alone. I often hear about fractured trust from both my teen and parent clients. During a recent parent-coaching session, one mom shared, “Jodi* has been lying to me. I found out she’s been vaping….again! She said she never would after the last time. We gave her a second chance and she betrayed us. Now I can’t trust her to tell me the truth and I certainly can’t trust her around those girls! They are bad influences.”
It’s no secret that trust plays a critical role in most relationships. For parents and teens, it is the foundation for freedom and independence. Parents who trust their teens tend to provide more allowances and less oversight. Teens have more freedom and opportunity to develop responsibility and independence. But trusting parents can sometimes be caught out by their teen who, on an impulse, might take advantage of their trust and make a wrong decision. The freedom to develop responsibility and independence that the parents believed they were providing, turns into a series of lies and cover-ups.
So how do you approach a teen who has breached your trust?
When a teen misuses her freedom, starts lying, or worse, parents react. Anger and fear are triggered. Sometimes tempers are lost and hurtful words are exchanged. While these parent reactions are understandable, they are not helpful. In order to repair trust and build your teen’s awareness of right and wrong, a thoughtful approach is required.
1. Focus on her choice, not her. For example, if you catch your teen lying about vaping, focus on her choice to lie and vape. Do not call her a liar or an addict. Stay centered on her behavior, not her character.
2. Control your emotions. It is ok to express your disappointment in her choice (not her) and let her know how you feel, but try not to overreact. This will only cause your teen to do the same. When you respond calmly and honestly, you will open the lines of communication which are necessary to parent-coach your teen in the area of decision making.
3. If you previously outlined a consequence for her wrongdoing, enforce it. If you are caught by surprise, tell her you need to think about a consequence that makes sense or talk with her about a consequence she thinks is fair. Involving your teen in the process will encourage her buy-in.
4. Let her know that it will take time for you to feel you can trust her again. Be explicit about what she can do to rebuild trust. Outline three to five actions. Determine a time to revisit the trust conversation and reevaluate her progress.
5. Don’t ask her “why” she did it. In my experience, teens do not know why they do what they do. They are naturally impulsive and still developing awareness of actions and consequences. Asking why tends to prompt a circuitous and unproductive conversation. Instead of asking why you might ask her one of these “what” questions:
- What can you do next time you find yourself in a situation like that?
- What do you now know about ____?
- What do you think is the best way for us to rebuild trust?
6. Over time, give her chances to demonstrate she has learned from her mistake. Start with small freedoms and as she proves her trustworthiness, give her more leeway.
If you need more support, consider scheduling a free discovery session to learn how parent and teen coaching supports the development of responsibility, trust, and effective communication.