In a recent article titled "Raising 21st Century Teens: Issues & Solutions" author Roni Cohen-Sandler, PhD explains that trust is the foundation for developing open and honest communication with your teen. During this time in their lives, your teen is prone to shutting you out. Even the most sincere attempts to converse with your son or daughter may not result in them telling you the truth. So what can parents do? For starters, Cohen-Sandler suggests coming to terms with the fact that there are no guarantees.
Teenagers are prone to acting impulsively. Impulsive decisions can lead to serious mistakes, such as drug use and other criminal activity that they will want to keep a secret from you. Knowing this, there really is no absolute guarantee your son or daughter is going to be telling you the truth. Punishing your teen by taking away various privileges and implementing more restrictions may not be the best response to bad, impulsive decisions. This type of response can cause your teen to withdraw from you even further, leading to greater strain in the trust relationship.
A second suggestion Cohen-Sandler makes in her article is to understand that trust is a two-way street. In other words, just as you want to trust your teenager, your teenager needs to trust you. In fact, part of what compels a teenager to be forthright with their parents is when they have learned to trust their parents, and when they have learned their parents are trustworthy. You may not realize it, but your kids are watching your every move. What you say and do on a daily basis can dramatically affect the trust relationship. Prove yourself to be a trustworthy and reliable parent.
Teens also gain a sense of responsibility when they see that their parents trust them. Often, overly-restrictive parents can cause teenagers to recoil and fear telling their parents anything. Cohen-Sandler suggests that parents should not say no automatically when their teens ask to participate in new activities just because they are unfamiliar. Instead, explain to your son or daughter what types of character traits you would like to see them display before you feel comfortable with them participating in a certain activity.
Teenagers have to have some kind of incentive to change their ways. If they are under the impression that they are a "lost cause" and will never gain your favor, then they will likely give up and no longer try. Refusing to trust your teen again can open up a Pandora's box, leading to a number of other problems. Resist the urge to refuse to trust your children again after they make a mistake.
Another thing you can do as a parent is work on the way you respond to your teen. It is not uncommon for teens to avoid telling their parents things because they're preempting a negative response. For example, if a teenager notices that their parents yell every time they reveal bad news, to avoid being yelled at, they will probably start to avoid telling their parents when they've messed up. Be firm when you need to be, but respond reasonably and rationally when talking to your teen.
When it comes to relating with your teenage son or daughter, there may not always be an easy solution. Parents have to work hard to build a trust relationship with their teen so that hopefully, they will not be afraid to share their struggles and their failures with you. Koffel Brininger Nesbitt handles many cases for clients whose criminal activity started in their teenage years. More than anything, we want parents to better understand how to communicate honestly with their kids so that these issues can be rooted out before they become serious problems.