Does Your Troubled Teen Trust You?

A Deeper Look at Trust and Respect.

Do you trust your troubled teen? Usually, no. Does she trust you? Probably not.

I’ve found that parents don’t think much about trust; they assume their kids trust them. Yet every teen who comes into my practice has the problem of damaged or broken trust with her parents. If that trust has decayed enough, she won’t trust most other adults in her life either, including me – until I prove myself.

One day as Stephanie, a university student, and I were starting our session, I mentioned that her mother had called to ask for a different appointment time for our next meeting together. Steph’s mom, Sara, was coming into town for a session with Stephanie and me and wanted a different time than we had already agreed to. As I was telling Stephanie about this, she actually rose up from the couch and began pacing around my office.

“What do you mean, you changed my appointment?”

“I thought that would be okay, Steph; what’s wrong?”

“My Gosh, she’s at it again, even with you.”

I asked quietly, “Have I done the wrong thing? I think I do know your schedule pretty well.”

“You let her change my plans without asking me.”

“And, that wasn’t okay with you?”

“No, it wasn’t. That sneak! Why didn’t she call me first? She was always doing this when I was in high school, going behind my back to my friends, trying to control my life.”

I said, “I’ll just call her back and reschedule, Stephanie. What will work for you? We’ll start with your schedule and go from there.”

Stephanie decided I was sincere so she sat down again and we went on.

From this incident I learned that Stephanie’s mother, Sara, had used other people to manipulate her daughter. She habitually called Steph’s friends, her employers, her teachers and whoever else Stephanie knew. The reason: to get or give information about Stephanie and to learn whatever she could that Stephanie wasn’t telling her. Stephanie had learned to distrust her mother.

From this incident Stephanie learned she could trust me to hear her feelings and to respond. I did call her mother back and negotiate a time that was better for Stephanie. By doing so, I demonstrated that I could be trusted. I listened to her feelings and respected her request to be consulted on any issue that affected her.

She didn’t feel powerless with me as she had with her mother. She realized that I had made an innocent mistake; I had no wish to manipulate or ignore her. In fact, I always have the same goals with all of my clients. That is to build trust and respect between us.

Teens like Stephanie are really discouraged and often even depressed by the time they get to my office. So, I want parents to be part of the healing process. I ask them to learn (1) listening skills and (2) respectful questioning skills. These skills help to re-establish some positive level of trust and respect with their youngsters. While it’s possible for teens to heal their inner selves, change their behaviors, and live better lives without their parents help, the progress goes faster with their help.

What’s so difficult for parents is that they have been the objects of their teen’s anger and aggression. They’ve been hurt; they’ve been bruised. And, they’ve been battered and used in a lot of different ways. Now to think that they have to help the teen that has created so much turmoil in their home is something they don’t want to think about, much less do.

But, because parents were part of the relationship breakdown, it’s definitely good when they learn the same new skills their teen does. And, hurting parents need healing too, so the road to trust and respecting each begins.

Big Thoughts From This Article:

1. Sometimes teens know why they’re angry, like Stephanie here, but often they don’t. Parents, try to be patient; give it some time.

2. Parents, be willing to learn new communication skills. (And, by the way, these skills can be used at work or socially, too.)

3. Parents, be willing to learn what the word Respect means and how that should show up in attitudes and behaviors. Good Luck.

Warmest wishes until next time,


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