Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trust Is A Tricky Thing

After my seminar last night a parent came up to ask me a question about her 15 year old daughter. She asked: "What do you do when your kid betrays your trust? Can and how do you rebuild it?" Such a great question, and one that is complicated to answer. Trust is a tricky issue with teens. The adult perspective is that someone earns your trust by basically showing through their behavior that they understand and respect your expectations, and that after a period of time you can successfully predict that they can perform the behavior that meets your expectations. I have no idea if that really makes any sense. But I just reread it and I'm going with it!! Because adults have more life experience, and more ability to think things through, it is realistic to expect that when an adult ( a friend, a spouse or family member) betrays your trust it is with full understanding of what they are doing. That a cognitive choice has been made, I know I am not supposed to be doing this, and I am doing it anyway.

Teens do not come to the table with life experience, and an ability to think things through. So when the term "trust" gets thrown around with your teen, it might set everyone up for failure. I think that the issue between teens and their parents is not so much about trust, but about temptation. Teens do not live in a thinking brain. Which is to say, yes they can think, but they don't often think things through. They live in a feeling brain. It is their spontaneity and impulsivity that drives their behavior. The "awesomeness" of it all. So in the moment when an "awesomeness" comes around, it is in direct conflict with a behavior that if acted on would be a betrayal of your trust. So for example, if your teen promises you that they won't go to a party where there are no parents present, and then you find out that they lied and indeed went to that party with no parents present, you would define that as a betrayal of trust. Which indeed could be defined that way. But here is another way of looking at the incident. She and her friends drive up to the party. Your teen asks her friend, "do you think their parents are home?" "What are you kidding, NO" Now your teen has a dilemma. She knows on the one hand she is not supposed to go into this house with no parents, yet she watches as carfuls of kids walk into said home, carefree and seemingly feeling completely conflict free about their decision. She knows on the one hand she is not supposed to (trust issue) but wants to so bad cause everyone is, she'll look like a loser if she says no, the cute boy she has a crush on and her friends tell her has a crush on her is inside, she feels like she looks really cute (has on a good outfit), oh what's a girl to do....she goes in!!  I would see this as a temptation issue. Imagine how hard it is to walk away from all that "goodness".

So here is your "I get it" moment with trust. Using the above example, rather than going to the "you have betrayed my trust, you lied, you're grounded, place. Instead you might say something like this. "I found out that the parents were not home, and I thought we had an understanding that you are not to go into a house with no parents. On the other hand, I get how hard it must be when you are actually in the car, in front of the house and desperate to go it. I know you want to do the right thing, but when you see your friends all going in I get how hard it would be just to walk away. We need to figure out a plan so that when you are in this situation again, you might be able to do something different rather than lie. Maybe you call, and let me know the parents aren't home. Maybe I will say, that you go in and say hi, stay a few minutes and then I will pick you up around the corner. This way you get to save face, stay safe, see your cute boy, and then feign illness or an early morning family gathering, and slip out the door."

The issue here is to recognize the power of the moment, and how unrealistic it is for you to expect that when your teen is full of impulse and excitement that they will be able to do the right thing. If they feel they can call you with this dilemma and "trust" that you won't yell at them, but instead help them with it, then hopefully you can bypass the lying and the sneakiness.   Encourage honesty by offering help.

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