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Why adolescents don’t trust their parents … and what to do about it

TEENAGERS
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Good communication between parents and children is vital for kids' development.

Adolescence is a turning point in the relationship between parents and children. The relationship changes both in the frequency and the content of their interactions. Teens and tweens are usually less willing to share things with their parents, and to reveal information about their developing personal life.

Consequently, parents are forced to try to extract information. They want to know what their child is involved in and maintain some control over their life. This can lead them to impose rules and limits on the freedom of their adolescent children who, on their part, have a vital need to seek autonomy and independence.

Faced with this situation, which in many cases creates some conflict, it is essential to know that the family still remains vital to the healthy development of the child. This means that communication within the family must be pursued, as it is a key element of development that impacts the adolescent’s physical, psychological, and emotional growth.

The great challenge

Parent-child communication becomes a great challenge in adolescence, for both parties.

The relationship changes. There are fewer occasions to interact, as teenagers spend more time with their friends – and, unfortunately, when the parents and children do interact, they experience greater difficulty in communicating. Something seems to have broken, and there is less of an emotional bond.

However, problems in communication are not inevitable; family dynamics might change without necessarily becoming bad relationships. This will depend to a large extent on the type of relationship enjoyed during childhood and on the quality of the emotional bonds.

Positive communication, which takes into account the changes taking place in the relationship, will greatly enhance the interaction between parents and children. However, it is not uncommon for problematic communication to be associated with problems that adolescents are experiencing at school, as well as issues related to their psycho-emotional and/or social development.

The problem of distrust

It is very common for adults to make promises to their children, but not always to keep them. In addition to setting a bad example, this drives them away and damages the bond between them, because the children feel they can no longer believe that their parents will do what they say.

Furthermore, as part of the process of maturing, adolescents begin to feel more autonomous and responsible for themselves, and may go to the extreme of considering themselves self-sufficient, no longer feeling the need to share information with their parents or ask for certain permissions and approval; they want to make decisions for themselves without consulting.

Positive communication

The key to improving trust between parents and children is to talk with your children in a way that they do not feel attacked. To do this, use phrases that begin in an affirming and positive manner, encouraging sharing, and stimulating conversation by asking questions, and not simply setting rules and issuing mandates.

As parents, it is necessary that we learn to listen with openness, also leaving room for our children to live their own experiences, and even to make mistakes so that they learn for themselves, as long as the consequences of a mistake are not dangerous.  You will be there to support them.

Children also need opportunities to feel that we trust them, believe in them, and respect them. In the end, trust is a two-way street and what goes around comes around. Therefore, adults must be the first to promote trust, because without it relationships with others will hardly be sound.

Self-confidence

For this reason, we must start sowing and enhancing our children’s self-confidence.

Self-confidence is the degree to which each person believes that he or she is capable of carrying out a task, developing a skill, or solving a certain problem.

People who trust themselves believe they are capable of doing things well and, therefore, are not afraid to do those things—and even try new ones.

Furthermore, self-confidence is associated with some aspects of life that are especially relevant in adolescence, when people begin to rediscover the world, to explore the limits of their freedom, to take action, and solve problems never faced before with such a degree of autonomy.

Some of these new ventures have to do with body image, perceived control, or self-esteem. As when their children were small, parents can help their adolescent children develop and mature with positive self-confidence, teaching them how to safeguard it. This is, almost by definition, a complicated task, given that adolescents usually want to depend on their parents less than they really need to, and they often defend their autonomy to the detriment of other, objectively more important issues, if they see it threatened.

Adolescence is a period of life that is characterized in part by personal insecurity, due to the need to confront many changes in life.

All the more reason, then, to intensify adolescents’ sense of confidence by accompanying them in their path of maturation—and this requires, above all, serenity and confidence on the part of adults, parents, and educators.

An important source for this article was Lucía González’s Relación entre la comunicación hijos-progenitores y ajuste adolescente.

This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia, and has been translated and adapted here for English-speaking readers by Martha Fernández-Sardina.

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