Trust, but verify. (Ronald Reagan)
Teenagers are in the most impressionable years of their development. They are vulnerable to numerous influences, and it is a scary time for parents and can be a battle of wills just trying to “do what’s best for them.” How can we ensure that they’ll learn the value of respect? That they’ll achieve all that they’re capable of achieving? It’s a difficult relationship to manage, but the most important thing to give them is a stable sense of trust. Unfortunately, we may be teaching our teens the opposite.
“Trust, but verify” was one of our mantras as parents of our teens as they were growing up. It was not all the time, but arose in those moments where as a parent we think “hmm” This was based on boundaries that we as parents had established. Boundaries mean knowing where the line is and where you both stand. It’s confusing and detrimental to hold somebody to an expectation that they’re not even aware of. Speak up. Let them know what you expect of them and let them tell you what they expect of you. Teach them how to create boundaries with others. This contract you have with them is only fair if you make it clear and abide by it.
Being a parent is a delicate balance. On one hand, we want to be the authority figure, the disciplined teacher, the bad cop. Yet on the other hand, we want to be their confidant, their patient ear, their friend. The problem is you can’t — and shouldn’t — always be both. It’s not easy to discipline somebody you love, but it’s essential to building their character. Don’t take the lazy route and just hang out with your child. As a parent we need to consistently guide them. You can still be their friend and relate with them but don’t let them off the hook when it counts. It is about creating logical consequences together before the incident. What does that mean?
Have the conversation so that both you and your teen understand the boundaries and expectations and that consequences are clear . For example, If your teen is driving, where can they drive to and with who in the car? What time do they have to be home? What happens if they are late arriving home with the car? What happens if they get into a small accident? It is by having these conversations that we build trust and the relationship with our teen. The next step is making sure we as a parent follow through on our end of the consequence. If the car rule is that you have to be home by 11pm and your teen arrives home at 11:15 pm is that an acceptable margin of error and a teaching moment? If they arrive home at midnight the consequence is no car for a week and as a parent you have to be able to enforce that consequence. A wise parent once shared that they never give a consequence without prior notice, both parties agreeing and realizing the impact it will have on their life. If you have told your teen no car for a week, how does that impact your schedule to make sure your teen arrives at practice on time, or meets up with their study group. It is when we don’t understand the consequences we give and start to “alter” the consequences for our own gain or ease that our teen loses trust in us. That we are sharing that our integrity and follow through is subject to our own personal freedom and pleasure. That does not encourage trust in the relationship, and then we see that behavior in our teens. We are our teens biggest role models.
One other area where we often teach distrust is our lack of ability to trust our teens. We betray their privacy, and we do it for what we think are the right reasons. It’s difficult to go from raising our little ones and managing every aspect of their lives to giving them space as teens. Your teen is an individual now, so you should respect their privacy. If you break that boundary by snooping through their personal belongings, journals, and cell phone (whether you pay for it or not), you’ll only make them get better at hiding themselves from you. That shouldn’t be the end goal. Like any good relationship, you have to trust them in order for them to trust you too. None of us are going through our BFF’s phone while they are in the bathroom when we visit their house. Have the same trust with your teen. If you are concerned about an issue, bring it up. It is easy to start a conversation, “I saw on the news that drugs are a big problem in high schools, how is that at _______(fill in)?” Let them share with you, don’t assume, be curious and ask lots of questions. Be direct, “_____(fill in) mom said that _____(fill in) was suspended for ______(fill in, drugs, fighting). Do you feel safe at school? How can I support you.. Being in high school today is tough, running the gauntlet of being “cool and accepted” to wanting to be safe and happy has become a daily test for our teens. Let them know that you are willing to listen, help them to problem solve and with their permission engage needed resources. It is all about building trust and the relationship