Archive for Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Double Take: Parents’ trust of teen must be earned

December 14, 2004


Dear Dr. Wes & Jenny: I made a lot of senior friends when I was a sophomore in high school. Now that they've all graduated, I'm getting invites to a bunch of college parties. My parents don't like the idea of me hanging out with them anymore. How can I convince them to trust me? -- 16 1/2-year-old girl

Wes: This is a common issue and one your parents would probably like to avoid. You won't like this, but I have worked with families long enough to know that "trust" is greatly overrated. Most (but not all) teens aren't designed to be very trustworthy, and it is naive for parents to assume they are. Instead, adolescence is usually spent with parents reluctantly giving up control of their teens in larger and larger steps until the day they move out for a job or college.

This surrender of control is not because parents actually trust the teens, but because they have come to realize that on many issues teens have to make mistakes and learn from their natural and logical consequences -- without getting into something too serious to get out of, such as pregnancy or drug addiction. It is a fine line to walk as a parent and as a teenager.

Discuss with your folks the realities of these parties. Of course there will be drinking and sex and probably drugs -- the same issues that exist in many high school parties. I hope and expect that your parents will disapprove of these activities and your participation in them if you attend, and they should then set consequences if you cross those lines.

If you are being straight with them, you should encourage them to "check you out" when you come home. And I urge you to banish from your vocabulary the sentence "geez, why can't you just trust me!" I suggest parents issue a cell phone to dating and partygoing teens and keep in touch during the evening in a way that is not obvious and embarrassing to their kids. This is also useful if one must enforce a Mothers Against Drunk Driving-style contract to pick you up if you blow the limits.

However, if you handle those limits well, your parents may be less worried about your attendance at these parties. The tough reality is that at 16 1/2, your parents can better teach you to protect yourself through a solid relationship and logical limit setting than either direct control or misguided trust.

Jenny: Have you done anything for them not to trust you? Even if you haven't, it is their natural instinct to assume that when a person goes to a college party that there are going to be things there that their son or daughter shouldn't get into. What they don't realize is that most of these things happen at high school parties, too.

First you have to figure out if you really want to get into these things. Or, if the parties aren't going to be what your parents (and Wes) think, then introduce your older friends to your parents. Get them comfortable with the idea that you are hanging out with an older crowd.

If the parties are going to be wild, then let your parents know that you realize they have preconceived notions about what it's going to be like. Tell them you have different morals and you know how to take care of yourself.

This may be hard for them to accept, but you have to prove to them that you are trustworthy with your words and actions. You have to earn their trust. This means not coming home at your curfew time with alcohol on your breath, but maybe instead coming home a little early and completely sober.

Instead of going out every night, stay home some nights and invite your older friends over. Wes is right on the cell phones. Allow them to call you when they want to. Or call them every hour or so just to make them feel more secure about letting you do what you want.

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