How to Maintain Trust With Your Teenager Throughout the School Year

Aug 01, 2016


Adolescents, by nature, exist between two worlds. They’re not “kids” anymore but they’re also not adults yet. As parents, educators and authority figures we’re often in a unique position of striking the balance between trusting them with more freedoms and establishing rules and monitoring their behaviors.

In today’s technology driven world, teenagers are asserting their independence online as well as in the community. This leaves parents with a relatively new challenge - how to build trust with their budding adult but also keep them safe online. This is no easy task, a recent study revealed that 70% of teens hide their online behavior from their parents.

Adolescents I see in my counseling practice share with me that they feel misunderstood by their parents or that their parents don’t listen or respect what they have to say. It’s so powerful when a parent and child both feel safe to be open and honest with each other. The relief it offers to both of them is palpable and helps to create an environment that strengthens a trusting relationship.

Trust is fundamental to all healthy relationships. It is also important to remember that it’s a two way street. You want to be able to trust your teenager and he/she wants to trust you as well. The thing is those two trusts likely look a little different.

  • Teens may lose the trust of their parents by breaking a rule or disobeying them somehow. For instance, staying out too late or misrepresenting to them about where they’ll be on a given evening.
  • Parents may lose the trust of their teens by not setting and enforcing limits. For instance, a parent who doesn’t make online expectations clear but instead “snoops” through their teens computer, usually after they’re in bed and without their knowledge.

So how to strike that balance?

  • Practice monitoring instead of “snooping”.
    This can be accomplished by using technology, such as NetNanny®, to receive alerts and reports on their online activity.
  • Draw up a contract with your teenager that clearly explains your expectations, established rules (i.e., curfew, driving, homework responsibilities, etc) and potential consequences. This can be done formally or informally and even include other family members so no one individual feels singled out.
  • Open communication and mutual respect
    Your teenager is learning each day about relationships; what makes them work and what doesn’t. This is the perfect time to talk with them openly and honestly about the importance of trust in all relationships including parent/child. Impress upon them that you, as the parents, are a safe and reliable outlet for them to talk to. Many parents find this a good opportunity to explain to their teen that being honest is more important than being right! Teenagers (& parents too) make mistakes. To build a strong trusting relationship with your teen, it’s vital that he/she believes they can trust you to turn to you when they’ve stumbled.

Be kind to yourself as you journey through building trust with your teen! You may find yourself in arguments with your teenager over boundaries. Remember, you set these because you love them and want them to remain safe while exploring new opportunities. Though these boundaries, clear expectations and open communication, you’re building a strong foundation for lifelong relationships.