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HELP FOR THE FAMILY | PARENTING

When Your Teenager Breaks Your Trust

Some teens ignore their curfew. Others deceive their parents, perhaps by lying to them or sneaking out of the house to be with friends. What can you do if your teen breaks your trust?

 Is my teen a rebel?

Not necessarily. The Bible says: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a youth,” and teenagers often demonstrate the reality of that statement. (Proverbs 22:15, footnote) “Adolescents make some decisions that are hasty and foolish,” writes Dr. Laurence Steinberg. “Expect some mistakes.” *

 What if my teen has been deceptive?

Do not conclude that your teenager is on a mission to defy you. Research shows that adolescents really care what their parents think of them, even if they appear otherwise. Although your teenager may not show it, he is probably disappointed in himself—and distressed at the thought that he has disappointed you. *

A broken bone, once healed, can regain its strength. The same can be true of broken trust

 Who is to blame?

  •  Is it his environment? The Bible says: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Indeed, friends exert a powerful influence on teens. So do other factors, including social media and marketing. Add to these the fact that teenagers lack life experience, and you can see why teenagers might make poor decisions. Of course, they must learn to take responsibility for their decisions if they are to become responsible adults.

  •  What have I done? You might wonder if you were too strict and thus pushed your teenager into misconduct. Or you might sometimes wonder if you were too lenient and thus gave your teenager too much freedom. Rather than focus on the role you might have played in the problem, think about the role you can now play in the solution.

 How can I help my teen to repair broken trust?

  • Control your reaction. Your teen probably expects you to get angry. Why not take a different approach? Calmly discuss with your teenager what led to the problem. Was he curious? Bored? Lonely? Desperate for friends? None of this justifies the wrong, but it can help you—and your teen—to understand better what led to it.

    Bible principle: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.”—James 1:19.

  • Help your teen to reason on what happened. Ask such questions as, What did you learn from this experience? What would you do differently the next time you are in this situation? Such questions can help you to build your teenager’s reasoning skills.

    Bible principle: “Reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all patience and art of teaching.”—2 Timothy 4:2.

  • Administer consequences. These are most effective when they are related to the offense. For example, if your teenager broke your trust by using your car without your permission, you could restrict his driving privileges for a reasonable period.

    Bible principle: “Whatever a person is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Galatians 6:7.

  • Focus on how to rebuild trust. True, it will not happen overnight. Nevertheless, your teenager should know that, with time, broken trust can be repaired. Make sure he sees the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. If your teenager feels that he will never regain your trust, he may give up trying.

    Bible principle: “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”—Colossians 3:21.

^ par. 10 From the book You and Your Adolescent.

^ par. 12 Although we refer to the teenager as a male, the information in this article applies to both genders.