Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that your child is now 16 years old. It’s a week night and he or she is stressing over a test at school the next day. They tell you that some friends are coming by to pick them up to go to the library to study for this exam. You trust that your teen is being truthful and you watch the car drive away, headed to the town library. But what happens next is a parent’s nightmare.
Somewhere between your house and the library, your child’s friends discuss going to a party they heard about on social media that has no adult chaperones. Your teen objects to the idea but in that moment influenced by peer pressure, the group decides to go find that party and your teenager goes along for the ride. Your teen may be thinking that there is still a possibility that the library will be their real and final destination that night.
Later that evening, the young party-goers begin pairing off and disappearing in rooms and dark corners of the house. Your teen is on their best behavior and ignores the fact that the crowd is thinning out. Suddenly, another teenager begins flirting with yours and the situation gets very uncomfortable. They are able to fend off the advances and moves to another room of the house, only to be approached by someone else.
Reacting quickly, your child exits the house, sits down on the front steps, and begins to wonder what to do next. They think about going and finding the friend who drove the car, but quickly realize how awkward that could be. Then, your child calls you from their cell phone without hesitation. They admit to you not being at the library, apologize sincerely, and provide you with the address to come pick them up. Their last words were, “Please come quickly.”
I bet I’d have trouble finding any parent who wouldn’t want this to be the outcome for a similar situation involving their teenager. So, in order for your (future) teen to feel comfortable taking this action in a similar situation, what would be required to exist in your relationship with your child? If you said trust, you’re right. In that trust, your teen would have to feel safe calling and being with you, not feeling fearful of repercussions to admitting they made a mistake, and feeling comfortable calling you for help.
Now come back to the present moment. Want to know what you can begin doing now on a daily basis to ensure that your relationship with your children will be built on trust? Here are six things you can begin doing immediately.
Listen More and Lecture Less. Announce an “open door policy” in your family that your children (and teens) can talk to you anytime, about anything, and without judgment, ridicule, or punishment.
Remain Calm if You Catch Them in a Lie. Lying is normal for most children and a natural means of protection from parents who get angry and punitive in reaction to mistakes, poor judgment or misbehavior.
Commit to NOT Yelling. No human, child or adult, enjoys being yelled at. It kills the spirit, fosters fear, and provokes fight or flight; your child or teen will yell back or ‘run away.’
Quell Your Anger. Understand your own emotions and do all you can to manage them. If you’re easily brought to anger, seek out professional counseling. Develop the habit of taking a timeout to cool down before speaking or taking action in the face of your child’s behavior.
Apologize When You Make a Mistake. Tell your family that you are working on learning to be a calmer parent (and spouse). When you make a mistake and yell, spank or punish, take ownership for what you said or did and apologize for it. Provide a ‘make up’ to the recipient of your words or actions and acknowledge the fact that you’re a “work in progress.”
Use Consequences Instead of Punishment. Punishment in response to a child or teen’s behavior is designed to make them feel bad for what they did. What makes consequences more powerful is that they are respectful to the child, they are reasonable, and they are related to the behavior in question. Consequences are also implemented void of anger and retribution, a feeling of ‘getting even’ with the child or teenager.
Now I’m sure some of you reading this may be saying to yourselves, “I remember lying to my parents too, and going to the library was an excuse I gave. It’s no big deal.” I too remember going to parties in which there was no adult supervision. Our parents probably left us unattended more than parents do today, but the world seemed safer then.
Let me caution you that things have changed and so have the risks. Thanks to the media, a more bold entertainment industry, the Internet, and more plentiful, harmful substances, our children, teenagers, and young adults are exposed to far more pressures and messages than we were, that promiscuous behavior, drug use and recreational sex are OK.
A relationship between a parent and a child that is built on trust is one in which the child feels comfortable and safe to call the parent, even when they’ve done something wrong. What are YOU going to begin doing today to cultivate a relationship with your child based on trust?