Trust is a funny thing. It can be a bedrock foundation, unshakeable, and consistent. It’s often something on which we can rely when we have nothing else left. It’s a positive and healthy element in any functional relationship, and a necessary component to becoming a healthy adult. However, trust is also fragile. It can be shattered by a single act, word, mistake, or challenge. While it can take years to build, mere seconds can strip it away to nothing. Trust can be a scary thing, and even more frightening when it’s trust in your teenager.
We want to develop relationships of trust with everyone in our lives, and it’s often especially difficult to trust our teenagers. They struggle with judgement and impulsivity, and the often fail to understand the value of trust and how difficult it is to form and rebuild. Teens will test and break our trust - it’s natural. But how do we learn to trust again?
Building Trust With Your Teen
One particular issue that some parents face is how to rebuild a trusting relationship when their teen returns home from a boarding school or treatment program. It can be, for lack of a better word, a little awkward. Usually parents are happy to have their child home, and the teen feels some sense of accomplishment and relief to be home as well, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is fragile and testing the waters. How do you trust your teen again once they’re back home? How do you start fresh and create a relationship built on respect? There are a few strategies that make a big difference.
- CHOOSE to Trust. As parents you have to decide, from the outset, that you will “forgive and forget.” Of course this doesn’t mean you act like nothing ever happened or turn a blind eye. It just means that you have to actually consciously choose as parents to say “I forgive my child for breaking my trust and making those decisions. I know they have come a long way and I choose to respect and trust them again.” Even a whiff of mistrust will be perceived by your teen and could be seriously harmful to the relationship. Choose to trust.
- Don’t Wait to Set Boundaries. Sometimes parents like to move on quickly, pretending that everything is fixed permanently and that no parenting or discipline will be needed. Unfortunately this often means teens fall back into bad habits or push boundaries. Instead, set clear boundaries and consequences right away before there’s a need.
- Allow Some Freedom. The only way you will build trust and recreate a healthy relationship is to allow them some room to breathe and be. Give them opportunities to show you they are trustworthy - such as completing chores, helping with a task, borrowing the car responsibly, etc.
The transition from a boarding school or treatment center to home can be a rocky and tenuous one, but learning to trust your teen again when they return home is a challenge well worth facing. You can build a happy, healthy life as a family again.