Helping Teens Regain Your Trust

Trust is a fundamental building block of the parent-child relationship. Therefore, it can feel devastating when that trust is broken. When expectations have been established, it hurts when a parent or child acts in a way that doesn’t value those expectations. Parents can just as easily break their child’s trust as vice versa, but in this blog, we are going to focus on what parents should do when their teen breaks their trust.

Although it may sound pessimistic, it might be helpful for parents to realize that as long as their child is going through adolescence, they won’t be able to trust him or her 100% of the time. An adolescent’s role is to push limits. Your teen may break your trust by going against what you’ve asked them to do, not working up to their potential at school, lying to you, or engaging in risky behaviors. When these things happen it can be difficult to let go of the hurt feelings caused by the harmful incident and allow your teen to regain trust. Despite that difficulty, parents must model maturity and make every effort to move on from the incident and begin the work of trusting again. Even if you don’t feel like trusting again, remember that your child actually needs your trust in order to mature. Without parental trust, teens have a harder time building self-confidence, developing positive relationships and growing into successful adults. So, although it may be difficult, take the steps below to allow your teen to repair the trust they damaged.


When trust is broken, talk to your teen about the incident. Let them know that you have lost your trust in your teen’s ability to ___________ (tell the truth, get good grades, avoid drugs, etc.).  Explain why their actions hurt and make it clear that your teen will need to take steps to regain the trust you had. It’s good to clear up any misunderstandings and understand each other’s perspective. Families should discuss the fact that trust is a two-way street and that both parent and child have responsibilities in the process of building trust.

Let go of the hurt feelings

When your child breaks your trust, try not to react from an emotional place. You are not your child’s friend. You are your teen’s coach and mentor. You are supposed to teach him or her how to be a responsible adult. That means you need to set limits consistently and follow through with consequences. It is hard not to take your child’s violations personally, but try to the best of your ability.

Explain the benefits

Make gaining your trust relevant to your teen. Explain that when you don’t trust them, their curfew is earlier, they lose permission to drive the car, or they can’t see their friends as often. Give them something to work for: if your teen is trustworthy, you are willing to allow a later curfew or to go on the trip he or she is planning. Remind your teen that your home feels more peaceful when everyone can trust each other.

Create a roadmap for success

Define how your teen can go about earning your trust. Telling a child to “grow up” or “do the right thing” won’t provide the information he or she needs. Establish specific benchmarks that will help your teen meet your expectations. Do not just silently expect your teen to call you to check in when they are out. Tell them it will help increase your trust if they call in every two hours. Giving them specifics will help them be successful.

Be patient

Time heals all wounds. As your teen acts in positive ways since the harmful incident, you will feel less hurt and more able to trust your teen again. Trust grows slowly, piece by piece, with every good decision that is made. Of course, it may be helpful to remind teens that trust builds slowly but breaks quickly. A teen may have done the right thing twenty times, but it only takes one poor decision to undo all the trust he or she has developed.

Give positive reinforcement

When your teen meets your expectations, acknowledge his or her efforts. Offer a “thank you” or an additional privilege. This type of encouragement will motivate your teen to continue to behave responsibly because he or she can see that you appreciate them and that he or she is progressing towards repairing your trust.

Final thoughts…

Remember, there will always be bumps in the road to rebuilding trust. The family may be making progress and suddenly something happens to break trust down again. This is a normal part of the process. Do your best to set your teen up for success with clear limits. You might say, “I’m trusting that you will have the lawn mowed by the time I get home from work today.” This clear message informs your teen of what they need to do and when without bringing up their past mistakes. This type of communication will help strengthen your relationship.

One comment

  • Excellent advice! As a parent and Youth Motivational Speaker, I feel it’s also important to not hold grudges with your teens. By not holding grudges you are expressing your unconditional love for them and modeling how to nagivate other relationships in life. I would also add, keep what happened between you and your child confidential from other family members. Our role as parents are to protect!

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