Risky Teen Behavior: 3 Ways to Handle Broken Trust

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Has your teenager already started the new school year by engaging in risky teen behavior? Is he doing things like drinking, using drugs, or stealing? You may be wondering, “Will I ever be able to trust him again?” There are ways to navigate bad back-to-school behavior and still try to maintain a level of trust.

Group of teenagers play guitar

Trust is important to establish between you and your teen. It means that they have responsibility and freedom, which are stepping stones to becoming an adult. When trust is broken, it can be hard to repair. You may feel embarrassed, angry, or hurt—and that is normal. But you also should keep in mind that a breach of trust is not a reflection of your parenting.

How to Handle Broken Trust with Your Teenager

Here are a few tips to follow when your teen breaks your trust:

  1. Don’t get emotional. It doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, so don’t take it personally.  Don’t blame, nag, or lecture. This will only lead to you getting into a power struggle with your teen, and that will cause you to miss a chance to teach them. You also want to be careful not to let them off the hook. Instead, be objective on how they can make better decisions in the future. Help them acknowledge that they made a poor choice. It’s your job to be the parent and guide them into adulthood.
  2. Listen to your teen. Let him explain what happened, then ask him what he was thinking at the time—not what he was feeling. Did he drink because he wanted to show off? Did he break into the house because his friends were doing it? Focus on how he was thinking in a faulty way. Say something like, “You drank because you didn’t want to be the only one without a beer.” If he tries to place blame on his friends, call him out: “It sounds like you are blaming your buddies for the fact that you drank.”
  3. Give proper consequences. This means not getting emotional and reacting with an immediate punishment. You must give a consequence that allows them to learn from their mistake. Take some time to calm down. Have a plan in place for how to handle their behavior. For instance, when my son vandalized some street lights on Halloween, his consequence was to call the police himself and take accountability for his actions. Teen consequences aren’t meant to be comfortable, but that’s the point. Otherwise, they’ll never learn. Have them earn back their freedom in a responsible way.

If you go through these steps and still find yourself afraid they’ll break your trust again, that’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up—just acknowledge how you’re feeling. Look at the positives of how your teen is doing. Is he more responsible? Does he communicate where he’s going now? Make sure to recognize when he is doing something right. Also, have a support system in place so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Take care of yourself and know that you are doing the very best you can as a parent.

Do you have a difficult teen? What types of discipline/consequences have been most effective for you?

Janet Lehman, MSW has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years and is the co-creator of The Total Transformation Program. She is a social worker who has held a variety of positions during her career, including juvenile probation officer, case manager, therapist and program director for 22 years in traditional residential care and in group homes for difficult children.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr.
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