“Why can’t you just trust me mom?”

Handling teens & trust in the 21st century

Parents are frequently confronted with their teens who are crying out for their parents to trust them.  This might center on their phone apps, their Facebook communications or where they should be free to go without supervision.  While the specific content of what teens request has changed over the years, this theme for more freedom, more autonomy and less supervision has been a struggle for parents for generations.  In today’s world, this discussion is decidedly more challenging and complex. 

Equally, if not more problematic, is how parents have been misled on the issue of trust.  Too often, I have parents insisting that they cannot take the action necessary to monitor their children because they believe their teenagers will say ‘mom, you don’t trust me.’  
How do we make sense of all this?  Here are a few thoughts on trust.

We must trust kids to be kids
aIt is essential to understand this fundamental rule: kids will be kids.  Most will do the right thing most of the time.  Most will make huge mistakes now and then; some much more often.  All will eventually offer an untruth to you, if it serves them and they think they can get by with it. 

Your children will inevitably bump into all sorts of characters, good and bad.  Most will not shape their ultimate destiny, yet some will.  Unfortunately, good kids succumb to bad influences everyday.   We must do what we can to keep them on track. 

We must recognize that with adequate temptation bad things will likely tempt the best of kids.  This is certainly not always the case, of course, but a reality based view demands that these facts are understood. 

Trust that teens must fight for more freedom
 It’s part of nature.  Most pre-adolescents and teens will argue and fight for more autonomy than they can predictably and safely handle.  They think they have the experience to handle everything, yet they do not. 

The key here is in their limited readiness to safely and predictably handle the autonomy they seek.  Please understand that this desire is built into their very DNA.  They must do this fight…even if they know they are not ready.  So don’t think we will change this.  Instead, accept that it will happen…repeatedly.

Trust that our job is to use discretion our kids do not yet possess
We must trust our experience and the power this lends to our gut level discretion, and our sense of what is safe, healthy and right for our family.  Too often, I find that my clients get caught in repeated arguments and discussions with kids over limits.  Don’t do this; you will lose relationship quality and your internal ‘parenting compass’ will get confused as doubt sets in.  This leads to poor judgments about what kids can handle. 

The more you monitor the more you can trust!
You can trust what you monitor.  Anything else will predictably lead to disappointment and distrust.The secret is quite simple:  learn to focus on what you can monitor or have someone else monitor. If you can’t monitor the activity, the phone, the app, the computer or the conversation…then you cannot trust it.  

“I trust you sweetheart”
Let your kids know that you do trust them to be good kids.  And equally important, you trust the world to remain unchanged. This means there are temptations, negative forces, events and circumstances that are unhealthy for them and there are people and situations that represent real risks.

Let them know your job is to monitor and protect, and that you will do so without apology.  Don’t argue or negotiate over your position or this will weaken you.  Stay strong, and monitor.  In the end, you will sleep better, and likely, so will your kids.

Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit


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