As your children grow and develop into teens, they don’t always want comfort in the ways you’ve traditionally provided it. When you try to discern what they’re thinking, feeling, and doing, you wind up with more questions than answers.
Because teenagers have entered a stage of development that eventually enables them to become independent adults, your relationship with each other changes in many ways. You might catch them in a lie and feel like you don’t know who they are anymore. Maybe you react by browsing through their computers, and they begin to feel like home is hostile territory.
You find yourself in a stand-off. Neither you nor your teenagers feel good about this new dynamic, yet you struggle to find ways to establish trust and honesty with each other.
Building trust and honesty with your teen is hard work, but know that it is possible.
5 Ways to Create Trust and Honesty
1. Be consistent
Perhaps more than at any other stage of development, teenagers push boundaries. If you either don’t set limits for your teens or incentivize behavior with promises you don’t keep, you model for your teenager that trust and honesty are lines that can be crossed.
While your teens won’t always make decisions you like, remember that right now, they’re hard-wired for inconsistency—they’re emotional, impulsive, and confused about who they are. For this reason, teenagers can really benefit and grow from consistent, honest parenting—even if it seems like they’re not looking to you at all.
2. When your teens are honest with you, reward them
Knowing how they benefit from earning your trust is often more motivating for teens than explaining the rights and wrongs of dishonesty. Beyond concrete rewards, verbal acknowledgement of your teen’s hard work can go a long way. When the guidelines and rewards for trust are clear, your teenager will take honesty more seriously.
Offering more responsibility and freedom to your teens can be frightening, but research shows that teens who don’t have any responsibility or freedom often rebel. So compromise by showing that your teenagers can earn your trust and honesty. Reward honesty with an extended curfew, time to drive the car, or a weekend trip they’ve been wanting to take for months.
3. Make sure your teens know you care about them
Your children want to know that you’re still there for them with each big developmental change. The process of growing up can be painful, but chances are good that your teenagers are learning from each mistake. When they do something out of line, make sure the first thing they know is that you still love them.
They might not always want to talk, but keeping your door open is a powerful way to communicate to your teens that all of your rules and actions are in place because you care.
4. Talk about it
It’s not necessarily clear to you or your teenagers what trust means to the other. Asking open-ended questions about trust is a great way to engage your teenagers in deciding what responsibilities each of you has in communicating openly.
Talk about differences in opinion and clear up misunderstandings. Respecting your teenagers’ thoughts and feelings allows them to feel more like adults than children—a distinction that will be reflected in their behavior.
5. Get specific
As parents, saying things like “do the right thing” and “be good” communicates very specific ideas about behavior; to teenagers, those catch-phrases can sound pretty weightless. Outline that actions like slamming the door or cursing at you are specific ways to diminish trust. On the other hand, taking responsibility for homework assignments and calling to check in are specific ways they can rebuild trust when it’s broken.