When it comes to trust, I think of it on a frequency table. If you think about individuals who you barely trust, you may say you can trust them 2 out of 10 times. When you think about someone who you trust a lot, you may say you can trust them 8 out of 10 times. While I am not trying to simplify trust with numbers, I am hoping that you can see that building trust comes with more opportunities. If someone you barely trust is going to increase the amount of trust you have with them, more opportunities to build trust is needed. This is no different when building trust with teenagers. Here’s what that looks like.
Recognize that teenagers need space to share things openly with their caregivers. Like Dr. Gottman’s State of the Union meeting, a weekly check-in with your teens could be helpful to cultivate a space where trust is built. This may occur at the dinner table or while doing a weekly activity. Providing a welcoming space to have open dialogue will help them share things with you.
Be An Intentional Listener
If teens do not feel heard, they may shut down and the opportunity to build trust disappears. As parents and caregivers, you must postpone your own agendas and be willing to tune into your teenager’s world. This includes hearing their pain and trying to understand their perspectives even if you do not agree with them. Be attuned to their needs. By being an intentional listener, you use the space in a way that helps teens know that you are invested in their world and there to support them.
Regulate Your Emotions
While teens may share things that disappoint you, try to regulate your own emotional experience. This goes hand-in-hand with being an intentional listener. You might need to take the time necessary to step away and process if needed to have a more productive dialogue. You want to create a space where teens do not feel punished for expressing themselves. To cultivate this, listen to understand. As Dr. Gottman says, “Understanding precedes advice.”
Parents, leaders, and teachers all must give teenagers a certain amount of autonomy to make their own decisions. This is allowing teens to grow, develop, and use the knowledge they have. While it may be hard to watch your child make decisions differently than you would, giving them the room to learn from those decisions and supporting them remains key to building trust.
What better way for teens to learn to build trust than from the adults in their lives? If you’re a parent and your teen tells you something personal in confidence, it is imperative that you respect their privacy. For example, don’t tell the neighbors that your daughter got her first speeding ticket or that your son is having trouble making friends. Keep your teen’s personal information private, so that they will continue to trust you with their vulnerable emotions and thoughts. By modeling how to trust, you can further build trust and help your teen learn what a healthy trusting relationship looks like as well.
Dr. Lawrence Jackson is an assistant professor in Couple & Family Therapy. He’s also a speaker, author, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Nevada. Affectionately known as “Dr. J” or “The Black Male Therapist,” he launched a social media campaign called #BlackTherapyFridays to normalize mental health in his community through different social media platforms. Additionally, Lawrence started a clothing line to further bring awareness to mental health issues, and he enjoys educating people on equitable practices. You can follow Lawrence’s work on social media including Instagram and YouTube or visit his website here.