How I Talk to My Teen about Trust

Posted July 13, 2010 by

One of my main goals with my daughter is to teach her to be responsible and trustworthy as she navigates through the teen years.

Something that works really well for her is the visual of a house. A house starts from virtually nothing; there is land, and then through time it is built up. The foundation/land has to be good/safe/healthy/trustworthy, and there is more than one person building it. People work together to build a house, or any building for that matter. Over time, the house’s completion can be beautiful! The transformation that takes place is amazing. But if, during the building process, there is a storm or an accident, the process may get damaged, and it “falls behind.” It loses “bricks.” This analogy works very well with my daughter.

As she was growing up, and she would ask to do certain things, like go out with friends. I’d always say, “Remember, you are building a house of bricks, and you want to keep adding to it so your house turns out beautifully. But if you lose a brick or two, just know that the bricks equal trust, so the more bricks you add to your house, the more trust you earn.”

I think that really helped her and I relationally. She’d do different things, like go to a concert with a friend when she was 13. We dropped them off and we stayed near by, but they went alone. She hadn’t done anything at that point in her life for me not to trust her, so why should I say no? They had cell phones and I was nearby and it wasn’t a concert where there would be drugs or anything. This was one of our first and biggest milestones! Anyway, it went great, and she definitely built trust that night by adding lots of bricks!

But there have been other times over the last few years where she lost bricks. I am not much of a “rule” person, but one of my rules is “No boys in the house when we are not home. ” Well, one night I came home and not only were there boys in the house, but there was a hole in the wall in the basement, and a picture frame down in the entryway of our house! I was NOT happy.

But I didn’t scream and yell. I mean she is human, and she was in her tween years, so she needed grace and compassion but also discipline and a punishment in the form of a consequence.

I think finding the balance means that when your child misbehaves (or whatever you want to call it; I don’t like the word disobey), our response matters. What good would yelling at her have done? Or making her feel bad, and putting her down, or being negative? I say if you think this might be your response (which according to my daughter’s friends, it is for most parents), then count to 10! Cool down, and then approach her; get yourself together and zoom out. It isn’t life or death here.

I ended up sternly asking her if she remembered the rule of no boys in the house when we are not home. I asked her why she had them over anyway. I basically asked a lot of questions, and didn’t accuse or assume, or insult. That can so easily happen, but in my opinion we can’t let it. Our kids, good or bad, need us. There are constructive ways to discipline and handle misbehaving.

By asking her questions, this gave her a chance to have a voice and answer, instead of treating her like an object I’m trying to control. It’s important our kids know that there is grace and that we all make mistakes, especially at the vulnerable ages of 12-16. They have to know they have a voice in this; we have to create a two way street, and it takes two to tango! It’s not about having power over these little humans, it’s about walking alongside them on their confusing journey.

I obviously told her how disappointed I was, and that I was not happy with her, but that I forgave her. I reminded her that she’s not building her house of trust by making these sorts of decisions. I asked her, “Wouldn’t you rather have more trust so you can do more things?” Her answer was yes, of course. She was grounded for a week, and it all blew over.

Through the last couple of years she has lost many bricks, but she’s also gained a bunch too. Because she’s built so many bricks of trust, she’s able to do more things. As long as she keeps building a house that is trustworthy, she’ll have more freedom; as long as what she wants to do is healthy, and safe, it’s ok with me!


Gina Norma grew up in St.Paul MN, and enjoys art, reading, traveling, thrift shopping, picnics, volunteering and spending time with her 17-year-old. One day she hopes to go to Italy, attend college, and solve world hunger. Gina says, “To me, parenting is all about building relationships with our kids and walking along side them — not trying to control them or use shame.” You can read Gina’s blog at

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  1. Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor Report

    Dear ‘parent52’:

    Thanks for sending in your response. Gina gives great examples of how to teach kids about trust and how to help them ‘visualize’ that lesson so that it’s easy to remember and understand. And you’re right in that some behavioral problems need additional strategies and sometimes the help of professionals. There are lots of articles on this web site. We invite you to use the search box on the menu bar. Search for the particular behavior you want to improve in your child. We’re confident that you’ll find helpful techniques on the Empowering Parents website. We appreciate your remarks and invite you to keep in touch.

  2. Evelyn Report

    Gina, thank you for the article, had a situation with my 13 1/2 year old, that I could relate to this trust issue, how inspiring was your article.

  3. parent52 Report

    ok well i wish i could be onboard with gina, believe me some of us have used the building trust bricks scenario till the cows come home however with defiant children it doesn;t transcend. after years of forgiving, using grace,age approriate consequence. what in the world can the rest of us do if the school or law keeps knocking at the door. her daughter learned to listen & comply with her moms good sense analogy & thats great but many kids just don’t. no matter how many bricks are used or misused some won’t change they don’t seem to learn from mistakes or care about building trust no matter how well you and everyone else explains it to them. it would be wonderful if this simple tool worked on all teens but lets be real some will not be willing or able to build their house of bricks.

  4. Gina Norma Report

    One tip I might be able to give without passing judgment on other parents that could help is AUTHORITATIVE PARENTING style is in my experience the WAY TO GO! So much Authoritarian Parenting is going on, and I believe that inhibits the child instead of helping them to grow.
    I think parents are giving out of what they themselves have inside them, and they are at a loss because their own souls might be so empty, and maybe they were brought up in a way where they didn’t get what they needed emotionally. And as adults we suffer with our own issues and then we are parents on top of it! It’s difficult for sure.
    Most people are looking for quick fixes and in the rat race of today’s society, I can see why. So yes it does take MORE TIME to do what I do, BUT once it is put in motion, I believe it will come into fruition as beneficial.

  5. Gina Norma Report

    Hey all! Wow, I’m humbled by your feedback, I thank you dearly for it all. After I read each one I was like, REALLY? So thank you!
    Not that any of you would but if you honestly have further questions or comments, I’m open for them, so feel free to contact me through my Blog or my email

    Your comments moved me.


  6. fin Report

    This is indeed a very enlightening article for parents. And it takes a lot of discipline, self-control and of course love to be able to do what the author did to her daughter.

    I just received this link in my email and i would like to thank EP for sending it to me. It really helps!

  7. Michelle L. Report

    Great advise–thanks so much. With three kids including two pre-teens, I am often at my wits end dealing with the arguments and defiance.

    In fact, just a few days ago I began a blog ( in hopes that other parents will offer advice and suggestions to navigating through the murky waters of parenting adolescents.

  8. NAN Report

    Parenting skills as you suggest would certainly help produce a higher quality human being. Your approach is refreshing and needed in a society filled with parents who treat children like a problem and not a blessing. Kids learning how to deal with negative situations by how their own parents dealt with theirs, is a life lesson that will go with them forever. Being yelled at or given a “tyrant” mindset of “disobeying” as you brilliantly put it, or any other negative response, will only create fear. Fear is a reason people lie, hide and deceive. Imagine a country filled with children who were given your approach.

  9. kevininmn Report

    Awesome article – great points. I totally agree that kids will be honest with you and share more with you when they can trust you, the parent, that you won’t shame them or be “unsafe” to share with.

  10. adoetkott Report

    Gina, this is a wonderful article. I think it’s important for everyone to read, not just parents with kids.



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