This was written by our Director of Family Services, Kari Bouldin, MA, LMFT.
One of, if not the main topic discussed during family sessions in treatment is rebuilding trust. Parents struggle to understand how they could trust again considering the high risk, dangerous behaviors their teens engaged in prior to treatment. Teens worry they will never be trusted again. A life of “lock down” seems inevitable. Both sides know some basic level of trust will need to be restored. The common questions are: How much? How soon? What if it gets broken again?
The concept of trust is one taught many times over throughout childhood, adolescence and even into early adulthood. Think of your own experiences learning trust: How was it taught? When did you know you gained trust, and how did you get there? Trust exists on a continuum between full trust and no trust. A minor rule infraction or behavioral slip does not have to push trust all the way to an extreme of no trust. Setting up unreasonable expectations of no rule infractions, no room for typical teen behaviors, and stating your teen has “zero chances to mess up,” only sets them up to fail, and creates more conflict in your relationship. Slips or missteps are typical teen behaviors as they grow, build character and create values. The continued learning and earning of trust becomes a part of the “currency” in your relationship.
During family therapy sessions, the concept of “mistrust” is highlighted and addressed. It is processed as part of trust rebuilding. This helps teens understand that parents do have some level of willingness to restore trust in a gradual process, and it is ok for parents to be guarded while doing so. Teens are also provided guidance on how to continue to build trust and what an appropriate expectation of trust may look like upon returning home.
How is this accomplished? First, parents are encouraged to refrain from personalizing the loss of trust. Rebuilding trust is a process, and teens are still learning. It isn’t personal. Second, parents are coached on how to respond (i.e. rational discussion, pre-set consequences) rather than react (i.e. yelling, lecturing, using past incidents against teen) to a situation or event that causes a loss of trust. Finally, parents are asked to refrain from lecturing about trust. Instead, it’s recommended to ask what happened, and create a plan to move forward towards rebuilding trust again rather than focusing on the broken trust.
Teens are encouraged to rebuild trust through completing tasks and chores that are discussed and created collaboratively with their parents. Completing homework assignments, finishing chores in an agreed upon time frame and following through with promises are small steps to rebuilding trust. Teens are encouraged to step into the role of self-governing by staying in consistent contact with their parents while outside the family home, and understanding parents are not being nosy, but concerned about their safety.
These are just a few examples of how to rebuild trust between parents and teens. In our upcoming Family Support Group, scheduled for January 20th at 6 pm EST, more ideas and strategies will be discussed. I encourage both our alumni and current parents to take part in this topic discussion and bring your ideas of how to rebuild trust. I look forward to seeing you all then.
Kari Bouldin, M.A., LMFT
Lead Family Therapist