Trust: How to Handle Teen Untrustworthiness

Buying Gas

Her daughter was abusing privileges extended to her. She had a credit card for her monthly allotment of gasoline. Not only did she often exceed her limit, but Mom found out that she sold credit-card-purchased gasoline to friends when she needed cash. “How can I trust her? I gave her the card because I wanted to track expenses and make it easier for both of us.”

“What will happen if you take away the credit card?”

“I have to go to work early. She needs her car to get to school and to her job. The card is only for fuel. It’s not a regular credit card. I never dreamed she would break my trust by selling gasoline.”

“Maybe you could take away the card and go with her each time she needs gasoline.”

There was a long pause. “She’d be embarrassed if her friends saw her taking me along to fill up. And, it’d be a real pain for me. I’m so busy after work.”

“Do you think she would do it forever? Maybe she’d be ready to earn your trust after a month or so. One advantage would be that you could see exactly how much fuel she really needs.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. I know it’ll be trouble, but I think I’ll try it. Thanks. This may work.”

Ways Kids Break Parents’ Trust

There are many ways our children abuse privileges we offer them: misusing a credit card meant to buy only specific item, writing hot checks if they have back accounts, using the Internet inappropriately, and running up pay-for-view charges on cable. These resources are difficult to control which is the reason teens often abuse them.

What to Do When Trust is Broken

Ideally, the relationship between a parent and a teen is such that the teen is trusted to use credit, bank accounts, the Internet, and other resources within the limits allowed by his or her parents. When a teen proves to be untrustworthy, parents need to take action.

Use passwords to deny access to computer and cable. That’s a good idea anyway to protect kids from inappropriate websites and programming. Take away cell phones and video games. Close checking accounts.

These strategies seem burdensome and embarrassing. Your son may not like taking Mom along when he needs to shop for a new shirt. Your daughter may find it inconvenient to stop by the house to get dad when she’s running low on gasoline. Perhaps if they are embarrassed or inconvenienced enough, they will decide to be trustworthy.

As a parent, I hated rigid rules for my teens, because I preferred to operate on trust. However, if a child won’t honor that trust, it is our right and responsibility to restrict access to privileges.

Teens Seek Restored Trust When Privileges Denied

There is good news. Kids find restrictions so painful that it won’t be long until they are ready to prove their trustworthiness. The key is finding what restriction hurts the most.

Question: How do you handle loss of trust with your kids?

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