On the surface, these statements seem pretty harmless, right?
Yet, if you drill down a bit, these phrases contradict one another. Telling your teenager they need to “earn” your trust before they can receive yours in return, sounds like a one-way street to me!
What is trust, anyway?
Before you can build trust with your teen, you need to be on the same page. Have you and your teen ever actually defined what it means?
Dr. Brené Brown has conducted extensive research into how trust is developed, and she’s created a useful acronym to define it because it’s a huge concept for our brains to articulate. It’s called BRAVING:
B – Boundaries – You have clear and reasonable limits about what works for you and what doesn’t. Your teen knows what you stand for.
R – Reliability – Your teen can count on you to do what you say you’re going to do.
A – Accountability – You’re willing to do what is courageous and hard instead of what’s comfortable and easy.
V – Vault – You’ll keep what I say in confidence no matter how big or small.
I – Integrity – You live by the values you espouse, not just talk about them.
N – Non-judgement – You’re willing to hear what I have to say with empathy, curiosity, and compassion even if you don’t agree.
G – Generous Assumption – You’re willing to assume best intentions.
Trust is given, not earned
In 1960, Dr. Douglas McGregor conducted a study on management styles in the workplace. He and his team proved that managers who emphasize trust over “carrot and stick” management styles saw better performance from their workers. This same principle applies to parenting teens!
Stephen R. Covey, Author of The Speed of Trust, says, “Progress moves at the speed of trust.” I believe connection is the same.
Trust is a relational currency, not something handed down by authority.
As you read Dr. Brown’s definition of trust, how many points do you embody as a parent? Can your teenager trust that you will keep their confidence? That you won’t judge them when they tell you something you may not like?
You’d be shocked how many teenagers tell me they can’t trust their parents and they hide what they most want and need to share.
If you’re operating under “trust is earned,” you stay emotionally safe. You get to sit back while your teenager does the work to earn your trust (and love, because to them it’s the same). It’s like saying, “guilty until proven innocent” and you’re the one-person jury.
You avoid doing the vulnerable or courageous work to look at your fears, beliefs and values. You hold some unknown and sometimes unattainable standard your teen has no idea how to reach so they feel shamed, hopeless, and powerless to change the situation. And unloved.
Your trust WILL be broken
Studies have shown that roughly 96% percent of teenagers lie to their parents. I’m pretty sure the other 4% are probably lying about not lying, because lying is normal, expected behaviour for teenagers! Their brains are in a position where they’re learning independent decision-making skills. In order to develop their own set of morality, beliefs, and values, your teen may behave in ways they know you wouldn’t approve of or they’re afraid to tell you about for fear of judgement.
Although this is difficult and even heart breaking as a parent, you can’t dictate morality. Your teenager needs to develop on their own, as you mentor and trust what you’ve taught them will guide them in the right direction.
When your teenager does make a mistake, how do you trust them again?
You rebuild through many messy, curious and compassionate conversations where you listen more than you talk. By understanding your teen’s thinking you create connection and emotional safety to lower the fear of judgement.
It takes patience.
Model vulnerability and say, “I’m choosing to trust you. Even though I have data that says I shouldn’t, I know you’re human, and I’m choosing to trust you.” Follow this with more conversation (listen, don’t lecture) and negotiation about what might be different the next time.
The quality of your relationship will have a lot to do with the level of grace and forgiveness you have available. That’s not to say don’t have boundaries–make sure you maintain them for your own sake. Just check your need for retaliation and punitive actions. With a little practice, you’ll see how giving trust is key to receiving it in return.
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Parenting is hard. You don’t have to do it alone.