Most parents spend a lot of time worrying about their teenager’s safety and whereabouts, longing for that day when they can fully trust them to be honest, honorable and wise in their decisions. Sometimes it seems like things will get a whole lot worse before they get better.
But you don’t have to wait till your child is a mature adult to teach them how to be trustworthy. At every stage of development, our children have God-given strengths that we need to remind them of. In addition, we can cultivate an atmosphere in our homes where trust is defined, appreciated, rewarded and celebrated.
Trust is not about perfection of behavior. It’s more about your desire to not fail someone and the actions you’ll take. It’s about stabilizing the relationship in an atmosphere of honesty, transparency and integrity. So, we have to encourage trustworthy behavior while also acknowledging that there won’t be perfect behavior.
Our teenagers don’t have the ability to walk through their teen years without making mistakes (in fact, we don’t have that ability at any age!) First, we have to take away the impossible standard of them not ever making a serious mistake. We may even go a little prematurely gray during these experiences. But we need to remind our sons and daughters that we love them and are walking through these teen years with them.
Communicate the message that more than perfect behavior, your trust in them is at stake. When they make errors in judgment, set an atmosphere of grace where they can admit their mistakes – without you overreacting or harshly rushing to punish.
When our teens return home in the evening before curfew, we need to show our appreciation that they were thoughtful and responsible. If they remembered to take out the trash or do their part of housework, we need to acknowledge we’re happy that they are trustworthy members of the family.
Showing appreciation demonstrates that we see when they’re doing well, and not just when they make mistakes. It’s not a matter of thanking them for everything they should be doing anyhow. It’s an attitude of appreciation for their conscientious efforts to do the right thing, day in and day out, especially at home or school.
Setting curfews and knowing when to let a teen drive the family car will always be pretty weighty matters we have to decide on. Sometimes, we’ll find that we gave permission too soon, and have to take a step back. But explain to your teen that you want to see them doing well anytime you give them extra privileges, and that you hope to reward them with more free time and responsibility as their character and behavior warrant it.
Let them know that the rewards of trustworthy behavior are not just later curfews or the car keys, but the peace of mind you’ll have and the sense of accomplishment they can enjoy when they’ve maturely handled the extra privileges.
The teen years are filled with ups and downs, but they do go by fast. If you blink, you’ll discover your teens are now in their 20s, finished with college and out in the working world.
My husband and I look back more fondly on our kids’ teen years because we have experienced that there is life after the turbulent teens! We had many cherished celebrations along the way: graduation from middle school, getting their permits to drive, first jobs, sports achievements, first dates and college acceptance letters. Celebrations don’t have to be elaborate – just intentional and joy-filled.
When your teen reaches adulthood, you’ll look back, as I have done. You’ll see that along the way, your teen grew in maturity, through mistakes and challenges, and has grown up before your eyes. And you’ve grown, too. You’ve learned to trust them and to let go of trying to control everything. You’ll find that you and your teen are now prepared for the next stage of life. It’s time to get ready to see them take on the world.
You may also be interested in All Signs Point To God: How To Create Your Family Compass