It's around 1:00 a.m. and my 14 year old opens my bedroom door, waking me up. A couple of her friends have asked if she can go drive around and listen to music with them. I say yes. I hear her head out the door a short time later and then I'm back to sleep. I didn't hear her come back in, and when I woke up once during the wee hours I didn't go check her bed.
I didn't ask for details, I didn't tell her what time to be home. I did tell her to get $5 out of her dad's wallet in case they stopped for food, and suggested the 24 hour grocery store up the road. She had a wonderful time. She spent an hour and a half with three of her friends, ages 15, 17 and 20. They drove to the friends' house to pick up a few things and then they drove the long way back to our house, while listening to music. No deviant behavior. No scary risk taking. Friends, hanging out, enjoying each others company. At least one of teens' moms knew what was going on because they were using her van, with permission. My husband was aware of the request to go out, but he went back to sleep and didn't find out any of the details until morning.
Could that happen at your house? Would your teen trust you enough to ask if she could go out in the middle of the night with friends? Would your teen not ask and not go out, know that interrupting your sleep and making such a request would result in yelling, scolding, or worse? Would your teen not bother to ask and slip out for a few hours without your knowledge? Would your teen tell you which friends he was really going to be with? Would she provide a fictitious plan for where she was going in order to get permission to get out of the house?
When your teen wants to do anything with their friends at any time of day or night do they have to negotiate? Do you need to have control over where they are going, what they are doing and who they are with? Do they have to be back at a certain time, arbitrarily set by you? Do you wait up until they get home, pacing the floor, waiting to give them hell if they walk in the door one minute late? Do you tell them they have to earn your trust and that if they get home late that shows they can't be trusted?
If the above describes what goes on in your house then your teen already knows that you don't trust him. Your teen is fully aware that you need to be in control and that you don't trust her to make good choices or be responsible without considerable input and manipulation on your part. I described the consequences of that lack of trust very clearly in my post "What can your teen tell you?" Your teen does not need to earn your trust. Trust is the natural result of a respectful relationship and your unconditional love. Teens who have a trusting relationship with the adults in their lives are teens who do not need to lie or sneak around behind their parents' back. Teens and parents who have this kind of relationship do not argue because they do not grapple for power and control. When my daughter asked to go out I could say yes because I not only trusted her, but I also trusted her friends. I knew that her friends would be respectful of her feelings and would do everything in their power to return her home safely after their adventures. I have a relationship with her friends, too. I like her friends! We are friends on facebook and we all watch Glee together on Tuesday nights.
In my blog post "Trust" I wrote about trust in our relationships with our children from infancy onward.
In "The other side of trust" I wrote about how our children need to be able to trust us.
If trust is not a natural part of your relationship with your teen, or your children no matter what their ages, take a moment to click on those links and read more.