Thursday, January 10, 2013

PARENTS: Teenagers and Trust

Though it's not an idea that you can implement, talking about trust is an important conversation to have with teenagers.  I recently saw a TV show where a single dad came home from work unexpectedly one afternoon to find his 16 year old daughter at home with a boy in her bedroom and they had a conversation about trust.

Their conversation went like this:
Dad:  You know why I trust you, don't you?
Daughter:  Ya.  Because you're smart and you're a great dad and what other choice do you have?
Dad:  (long pause)  Ya.  (He hugs her.)  END OF SCENE

WHAT?  His response SHOULD HAVE been:
Dad:  (long pause)  Well, actually, I do have another choice.  A great dad's job is to provide boundaries to protect his kids when they don't know to protect themselves.  I've done that since the day you were born.  I don't trust you just because you're my child and I love you.  I trust you because you have earned it over the last 16 years by showing me that you are trustworthy.  Every time you give me a reason not to trust you, it breaks down what took us all that time to build and once it's broken it will take a very long time to repair or rebuild it.  It also breaks my heart because I want to trust you.  Over that time you also learned to trust me.  I have guided you, protected you, provided for you, and loved you and I always will.  (He hugs her.)  END OF SCENE

Here's the reality check.
No matter how much we love our teenagers, they're going to lie to us, test the boundaries, and push us as they are on a trek to independence.  They are smart, their higher level reasoning skills kicked in at about 7th grade, they know what they want and they think they deserve it.  They're also starving to fit in somewhere in the world and think they're adults.

The problem is that the reasoning part of their brain develops last and isn't quite done until they're about 25 years old.  They still need parental guidance because at this time in their lives many have trouble predicting the consequences of their behavior beyond a certain point, especially when feelings and hormones override their reason.  (Everyone develops at a different rate.)  They need to know that trust is earned and that losing it comes at a price.

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