How I Talk to My Teen about Trust
By Gina Norma
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!