Double Take: Trusting Teens…Or Not.

Double Take: Trusting Teens…Or Not.

Miranda: Teens make mistakes. We’re young and this is the time in our lives when we begin to figure out who we are and where we want to go with out lives. This naturally includes some bumps in the road that may test or even break the trust our parents have in us. When one of these really bad incidents rears its head, teens have to try and recover with as much maturity as possible to show parents we want to earn back their trust.

Underage drinking or drug use, throwing a party without parent permission, premarital sex, or any other large-scale lie damages the relationship between parent and teen. While I believe that most of this conflict can be resolved with open communication and mutual respect, building back trust can take time.

Teens, after you’ve been caught, try and walk a mile in your parent’s shoes before responding. Remember what it feels like when our own trust is betrayed, and you’ll see why they’re mad, giving you a little more perspective on your actions. Next, take responsibility and show remorse. Explain what you’ve learned from this error.

Parents, once you see that your child has moved past this and shown all of the above-mentioned maturity, it’s time to move past the incident. Continuing to punish them or reminding them of this situation for years to come will only strain the relationship and cause more problems. As much and they need to work to regain your trust, you need to work to forgive them. It can be difficult when an incident surprises you and changes your perspective about your child. But it is necessary to keep the growing up process moving.

These incidents are uncomfortable for parents and teens but with time and effort everyone can get over them.

Dr. Wes: Ah, we call it Double Take because we don’t always see things the same way. Just to lay the groundwork for my response, I should disclose that I personally never did anything wrong as a teen and thus my parent’s undying trust was vindicated as I drove off to college, just as Miranda will do in a few short weeks.

If you believe that sweet tale, I have some equally sweet swampland in southern Florida you’ll really like. In reality, my sainted father once had to go out searching to see where I’d disappeared to…with my mom’s car…at 2:00 a.m. My buddy and I were exactly where you’d expect us to be. With girls.  Did I mention the part about sneaking the car down the alley, motor off? I still don’t know how they figured that one out. We were so careful pushing the little Mazda quietly through a score of sandy potholes.

Over 20 years and 22,000 hours of clinical work, a majority of it with teenagers, I’ve yet to find the young person who behind closed doors argues in favor of blind trust. Instead, I prefer the old Ronald Regan approach to the Soviet Union: Trust and Verify. That doesn’t mean locking teens in the basement ‘til age 18. In means that as parents we offer rights and freedoms with one hand and expectations with the other and all the time we keep our eyes open. Unfortunately, if you go to my FamilyPsychologicalServices Facebook page you’ll find a new study that says parental supervision is actually down, particularly in the summer months, with some pretty negative consequences. That’s the real problem with “trust.” It’s as convenient for parents as it is developmentally inappropriate for the teens.

I do find however, that teens vary in their quality of judgment. So when they’re out where they’re not supposed to be, doing things they’re not supposed to be doing, some are more sensible than others. They heed our warnings about drugs, drinking, driving and unprotected sex and act to reduce their risk. They look out for their friends who aren’t so wise. They go out of their way not to embarrass themselves or their parents, even if they aren’t following all the rules. When they’re caught they handle things just as Miranda suggests. If you’ve got one of those teens, you’ve done a pretty good job parenting. Just remember that having faith a teen’s judgment is not the same thing as trusting them.

Wes Crenshaw, PhD owns Family Psychological Services, LLC. He is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP) and author of the books Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens. Learn about his writing and practice at Miranda Davis is a recent graduate of Free State High School who has co-authored the column since August 2011, and is the eighth in a series of teen co-authors. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to The column is reprinted from Double Take, published weekly since 2004 in The Lawrence Journal World. Opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.


Dr Wes

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