How often have you thought, or maybe even heard another parent say, "my teenager needs to earn my trust." I overheard a dad say that to someone about his daughter the other day while in line at the grocery store and it made me think...why do we expect our teens to show up for us in ways that allow us to trust them; but not expect ourselves to show it to them first?
Trust is a 2-way street. As their guide in life, we have to model trustworthiness before asking (or in some cases, demanding) to be able to trust our kids.
Does your teenager know they can trust you?
Can they come to you with a personal problem, an awkward social situation, or a grade they aren't proud of and know you are willing to hear them out, without judgment or criticism? Or, that you'll listen, but not offer unwanted advice? Or that you won't turn around and betray their confidence by sharing their situation with every one of your friends?
Kids, especially during the middle-school through young adult years, need to count on us to have their backs when necessary, while consistently holding healthy boundaries, and be the safe place they can turn to as they navigate adolescence.
Does this mean we can expect to hear about every challenge our son or daughter will face? Of course not. But if we show up in those moments when they are willing to trust us enough to share their difficulties/emotions/life confusions, and we honor their feelings, choices, and work with them to help them make healthy decisions, then they will naturally be more inclined to continue to share when things in their lives hit a rough patch.
Because they'll know they can trust us, just as we want them to work with us by respecting the structure and boundaries we set (curfew, chores, car use guidelines).
Over the past several years, I have found it hugely helpful (not to mention freeing) to be able to emotionally distance myself from needing a specific outcome when it comes to my kids and their paths. I understand my son's and daughter's life journeys are not mine to try and control. Do I want the best for them? No question. But often they have to figure out what that is by meeting challenges along the way.
The strongest connection we can create with our sons and daughters starts with their understanding we are by their side, ready to help prepare them for a life of independence, at the same time available to be a non-judgmental sounding board when they need it.
For example...I was talking with my twenty-three-year-old son a few weeks ago, he was sharing some thoughts about a friend he feels has changed over time, and he's beginning to notice a distance in the friendship. After hearing him out, I attempted to offer some [what I thought might be] helpful advice, and before I could really say anything he stopped me and said, "it's okay Mom, you don't need to say anything, I just wanted to share this with you." He knows he can trust me to share his thoughts and feelings, and he knows he won't hurt my feelings to say he isn't looking for my advice.
I replied, "thanks for sharing that story with me Mike," and we continued on with other catch up conversation. He's got it; he just wanted to share the challenge with me, and for that I am grateful.
Be available to listen; don't feel compelled to fix or try and make your son or daughter feel better in the moment. Life isn't always going to be "happy."
Let them know you are trustworthy by being present to, and validating of their feelings. Listen without judgment, and realize that as kids begin to try on the world by themselves they are going to make some mistakes. Just like we did.