In the first article of this series, I talked in detail about the first of two essential questions you must ask yourself when it comes to trust in your relationship with your teenager. They are:
1. Do I trust my teen?
2. Does my teen trust me?
While the first is obviously important, the second is crucial. Here's why:
Your teen is hard enough to control when she's sitting right next to you. When she's upstairs in her room or out with her friends, it's impossible to control her behavior or her choices. The only leverage you possibly have to influence her behavior is the strength of your relationship with her.
And while your perception of the strength of the relationship counts, it's her's that really matters. If she perceives it as strong and feels a genuine connection, she's much more likely to behave the way you'd like when you aren't around. She won't want to disappoint you.
What does this have to do with trust?
A trusting relationship is a strong relationship. This is why her trust in you is of the utmost importance. If the trust in your relationship is damaged and your connection is weakened, here are the questions I recommend you begin asking yourself immediately:
1. Does my teen trust I will be fair? Even if they don't always recognize the difference between right and wrong, most teens I've worked with still have a keen sense about what is fair, and a lot of their trust is based on it. Even if he doesn't always agree with your rules and structure, if they're fair, that voice of reason will rise from the hinterland of his conscience and he'll get over it without too much difficulty. However, if your rules and their consequences are excessive, arbitrary or inconsistent, he will judge you as unfair and it will create distance in your relationship. He will trust you less.
2. Does my teen trust I will listen rather than lecture? This is very important. If you can actually get your teen talking, you don't want to squash it with unsolicited advice. This is one of the key ways teenagers get annoyed with their parents. Lectures are like teen repellent. If you want them to run in the other direction, just "spray" them with a lecture, and voila, they're gone! So if they're talking, you should be listening -- and I mean really listening. Just like you know when they're looking you in the eyes but nobody is actually home, they too know when you're really present.
3. Does my teen trust I can see him for who he is rather than who I'd like him to be? Every person has a dream for what their life will be. It begins when we're children, and we spend much of our lives working to make it a reality. Our dream includes what our career, love and family life and lifestyle will look like. For many it also includes a spiritual component that gives life a deeper meaning. But we also have a dream for our children: who they will be, what their strengths will be and what they'll accomplish. This is natural and normal. But at some point, our dream for their life has to give way to their dream. When they're teenagers, they increasingly need to know we're supporting their dream for their future. And especially if it's different from the one we have for them, they need feel acknowledged, respected and loved for the path they are on. If they get that from you, wholeheartedly, then the trust you want from them (and that they also want to have in you) will be a foregone conclusion.
Joshua Wayne is a Family Coach and Youth Mentor. He teaches parents to eliminate conflict and power struggles with their teens, and bring healthy communication back into the home. He also speaks frequently to parents and educators around the country. You can learn more about him at www.joshuawayne.com.