Building Trust with Teenagers: A How-To Guide for Parents

One of the keys to building that solid parent-teenager relationship is trust!

Parenting teenagers can feel like navigating a complex labyrinth. The terrain is fraught with challenges, and it can feel like you are navigating with only a spork for a compass.

You know you need to have a good relationship with your teenager to give you the best shot of making it out the other side, but some days it is easier said than done.

Trust is like a superhero cape that helps build a strong and enjoyable connection with a teenager. It is the amazing power that can transform your relationship with your teen from a rollercoaster into a cosy hammock.

Sounds good huh?

But trust between parents and their teenage offspring can sometimes be as hard to find as a one-ended stick.

So, in this post, we’ll dive into the art of building and cultivating a high-trust home for parents and teenagers.

1. Effective Communication: The Key to Building Trust with Teenagers

Effective communication is the beating heart of trust, but it’s not always as simple as it sounds, especially when teens are involved.

For many parents getting a teenager to talk is like trying to teach a goldfish to tap dance, only slightly more difficult.

The irony is for every parent who complains of an uncommunicative teen, there is a teenager complaining about parents who never listen.

Encouraging your teenager to open up requires you as a parent to foster an environment where your teen feels safe expressing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns without fearing parental judgment – yes, that means no raised eyebrows or shocked gasps.

Listening well is your ticket to both understanding your teenager and getting them to talk in more than single-syllable utterances. To “listen well” to your teen is to try and make your teenager feel like the most fascinating person you have ever heard.

When they start sharing, put away your smartphone (yes, Instagram can wait), make eye contact, and nod like you’re agreeing to join their TikTok dance challenge (even if you’re not).

Show empathy – try to appreciate what it is like for them, and communicate you understand, even if you’re secretly thinking, “What planet are they from?”

Validate their feelings – don’t dismiss or try to minimise their emotions by telling them “it will be okay” or “it’s not that bad.”

And don’t interrupt their teen drama – it’s like a Netflix series; you need to binge-watch to get the whole story.

The other skill you’ll find helpful is the ability to switch into good listener mode with virtually no warning.

Your teenager might start talking at any time. Like just before bed, when you are stuck in traffic, while you are watching the latest episode of your favourite show that you have been waiting all week to see, or basically anytime other than when it would be convenient for you.

In those spontaneous and inconvenient moments of teenage disclosure, feel your frustration and put it aside, breathe deeply, then savour the precious moments of connection with your teen.

The better you get at creating space for your teen to share, the easier it will be to build trust between the two of you.

2. Consistency and Reliability: Trust-Building Foundations

Consistency plays a pivotal role in constructing trust. It is the Robin to your trust-building Batman.

Establishing clear rules, expectations, and consequences, and adhering to them consistently, provides a sense of security for teenagers. Predictability in parental decisions fosters trust in your judgment. When your teenager knows what to expect, they’ll feel as secure as a brussels sprout on a toddler’s dinner plate.

To make this work requires your parenting to be like a good golf shot – you must follow through. When you set a limit, enforce it. When you threaten a consequence you must deliver it. When you make a rule, you need to stick to it.

Teenagers may not always be happy about the rules or consequences, but if you maintain and enforce them consistently and fairly, they will trust you. If however, you are arbitrary or unfair in how you manage and set expectations your teenagers will become distrustful and resentful.

Reliability complements consistency. Meeting commitments and keeping promises reinforces the belief that you can be relied upon.

If you promise to be home in time to drop them at their friend’s house by 7 p.m., make sure you’re there. When you tell your teen you will see the new Marvel movie together then book in the time and make it happen.

You want your teen to think of you as the human Swiss Army knife, who consistently comes through when they reach for you.

This dependability is crucial in trust development.

3. Respecting Teenage Independence

Teenagers are seeking autonomy and independence. Trusting them to make age-appropriate decisions and affording them space to grow is paramount. But it is also mildly terrifying!

Striking that balance between adequate parental control and granting independence is as crucial as it is difficult.

The art of parenting a teenager is learning to let go and trust your teen to navigate the world while still staying connected enough to be their safety net.

Allowing your teenager to make decisions and giving them room to spread their wings is how you demonstrate to your teen you trust them. Sometimes this means letting them make the call, even if you don’t think it is the best one (then having their back if it all turns to custard!)

Sometimes the only way for you to demonstrate to your teen that you trust them is to, well you know…. trust them!

When your teenager feels trusted by you, they are more likely to be trustworthy.

Using boundaries is a great way to manage your trust levels with your teenager. The boundary marks how far, or how much, you think your teenager is ready to take on and be trusted with.

When your teen consistently maintains a boundary, you might want to loosen your grip and trust them some more. If on the other hand, your teen demonstrates they aren’t ready, you can make the boundary a bit tighter until they show they can handle it.

A teenager who feels like they have autonomy and a reasonable amount of control over their own life will be a teenager much more open to trusting and respecting their parents.

4. Sharing Vulnerabilities: Strengthening Bonds

Trust isn’t just a solo dance; it takes two to tango, and in this case, it’s you and your teenager.

Building trust in a relationship requires vulnerability from both parties. You as a parent are one of those parties.

It is important as a parent to let your teenager see your human side and the fact that you don’t have all the answers, the same way they can’t figure out where all their missing socks go.

Sharing your fears, uncertainties, and yes, even your stuff-ups makes you look human – which is the look you are striving for right?

Teenagers are naturally obsessed and infatuated with parental imperfection. In case you haven’t noticed that adolescent sharing your house is actually an adult fault-finding machine.

There is no point trying to pretend you have got it all together, you won’t fool your teenager. You only risk coming off as disingenuous – or to put it another way, untrustworthy.

Admit your mistakes. Apologise to your teen when you get it wrong or disappoint them. Seek to rectify or make amends wherever possible.

Your teenager doesn’t need you to know everything or be right all the time (after all that’s what they are.) Admitting when you aren’t sure, or when you have made a mistake, makes you more trustworthy in your teenager’s eyes not less.

And it never hurts to be able to laugh at yourself – or at least join in when your teenager is laughing at you.

Making yourself vulnerable is an act of trust. When you entrust yourself to your teenager, your teenager is likely to trust you back.

5. Prioritizing Quality Time: Building Trust through Connection

Spending quality time with your teenager isn’t just about enduring their endless monologues on the latest friendship dramas or opinions about the injustice of the modern education system– it’s a trust-building adventure!

Quality time shows your teen that you’re not just a chauffeur or a walking ATM; you’re their partner in crime (minus the crime, of course).

Engaging in activities that you both enjoy reinforces the parent-teen bond. Whether it’s shopping together, playing a sport, cheering for your team, or laughing at the same silly scenes in your favourite movie for the 100th time, these moments strengthen relationships and create positive memories.

Your shared experiences become a reservoir of trust and strengthen the emotional connection between you and your teen. They become family lore, the source of the stories you’ll retell and laugh at around the family table now, and during family gatherings when they get older.

Quality time spent with teenagers is an investment in trust!

To make the investment, however, requires discipline and commitment on your part. As a parent you need to be proactive in carving out the time in your schedule, creating the weekly routines, discovering the joy in the things that delight your teenager, and choosing to be present when you are with your teen.

Building Trust With Teenagers

Creating a high-trust home is a daily process that demands attention and effort. But it is something that any parent can do.

Trust is the thing that transforms your relationship from fraught and tense to connected and relaxed. By fostering open communication, respecting their independence, sharing your vulnerabilities, and being patient and consistent, you can build a trust-based fortress that withstands the tempestuous teenage years.

In the end, a high-trust home is a place where both parents and teenagers feel valued, understood, and connected. So, embrace the adventure, keep the laughter flowing, and remember that trust is the superhero cape that makes parenting teenagers a wild, wonderful ride.

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