I Can’t Trust My Child Anymore

I never thought I’d find myself quoting Lady Gaga, but I like this (edited for decency) saying:  “Trust is like a mirror:  You can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that reflection.”  I know what she means.  Once our child loses our trust, it’s VERY hard to get it back.  In a real way, the person I thought my son or daughter was, is no more.  My image of my happy family has perhaps even been shattered.  The betrayal (even when forgiveness has been asked and given) can color our every upcoming interaction with our child.  Do I really know her?  Is he telling the truth…today?  Or lying again?  I’ve even wondered (maybe you’ve been there too)…will this cloud ever lift?

Our children will let us down.  They will deeply disappoint us. They are our greatest joy, and the cause of our greatest pain.  But their future is not written yet.  They need us to believe they can change…and to give them the hope that they can and will be restored in their relationship with us.  But they have a job to do too…and it’s to work hard at regaining our trust.  I found a great article that answers a teen’s question “I Lost My Parent’s Trust. How Can I Get it Back?”  If your teen is frustrated because things aren’t “back to normal,” this can help them understand what they need to do…and why it takes time.  Talking over the article could help the healing, and set the family on the path back to trusting them again.

Lying, Cheating and Stealing…it’s What Teens Do

A recent study showing an uptick in honesty among American teens prompted the founder of the organization conducting the study, Michael Josephson, to say “I think we have turned the corner.”

From 2010 to 2012, the changes include:

  • Stealing, down to 20% from 27%
  • Lying to a teacher, down to 55% from 61%
  • Cheating on an exam, down to 51% from 59%
  • Lying to parents about something significant, down to 76% from 80%

The percent of teens still, shall we say, “deficient” in character, is troubling.  It makes you wonder what you don’t know, doesn’t it?  Indeed, Josephson commented, “It’s a small ray of sunshine shining through lots of dark clouds.”

Mom and Dad…let’s not grow weary in educating our children to be young men and women of integrity.  We’ve clearly got a lot of work to do!  We CAN have hope that we can make a difference–Josephson attributed some of this significant uptick in teen integrity to parents who are increasingly concerned with teaching their children that honesty is important.   

How Teens Hide Online Behavior and Parents Trust Too Much

A 2012 McAfee study showed that 70% of teens admit to hiding their online behavior from parents, compared to just 45% two years earlier.  Meanwhile, almost 3/4 of parents (dare I say naive parents) say they trust their children not to access inappropriate content. With the consequences including emotional harm and dangerous and even illegal activities, it’s time we put the necessary effort into becoming tech savvy.  So let’s allow the teens to tell us how they’re hiding what they’re doing (from McAfee.com):

  1. Clearing the browser history (53%)
  2. Close/minimize browser when parent walked in (46%)
  3. Hide or delete IMs or videos (34%)
  4. Lie or omit details about online activities (23%)
  5. Use a computer your parents don’t check (23%)
  6. Use an internet-enabled mobile device (21%)
  7. Use privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%)
  8. Use private browsing modes (20%)
  9. Create private email address unknown to parents (15%)
  10. Create duplicate/fake social network profiles (9%)

Teen Ethics Report Card…D’s and F’s

A recent comprehensive national survey on the ethics of our nation’s youth revealed a shocking lack of morals.  It is disheartening to know that among high school students, in the last 12 months:

  • Nearly two-thirds (71 percent) admit they cheated on an exam at least once
  • Almost all (92 percent) lied to their parents
  • Over two-thirds (78 percent) lied to a teacher
  • Forty percent of males and 30 percent of females say they stole something from a store

What does this mean to us as parents and other caring adults?  First, we can’t naively assume that teens are telling us the truth.  Certainly, we want to believe the best, but it behooves us to have our parental antennae out for suspicious behaviors, or cagey answers.  When it comes to behaviors that threaten emotional and physical health (like sexual experimentation, smoking, drinking and drugs) we may want to put our teens’ health above our desire to respect their privacy.  Yes, that means it may be OK to snoop, especially when a teen is insisting on too much privacy, or is acting suspiciously.  Second, it’s time to have serious conversations about all sorts of ethical issues.  The online article reporting on this survey gives some guidelines that are really helpful.

If you assume that the school is covering these character issues, well, they may be.  But it’s not going to have nearly the same impact as a conversation with you.  Mentoring with an eye toward ethical adulthood is still best done by a caring adult.  Go on a walk after dinner, take an example from the news (there’s always some politician or media star acting badly), or tell a story from your youth as a conversation starter.  Be creative.  Help your child gain the backbone he or she needs to shine in a generation that too often doesn’t seem to know right from wrong.

Lying About Sexual Activity?

A few weeks ago I was teaching a parent workshop at a local high school. As I was sharing some statistics about the numbers of teenagers engaging in sexual activity, a father interrupted me with a question, “How do I know if my daughter is doing these things? Is there a way to tell?” I thought for a moment. Unfortunately, there are very few signs to let a parent know if their child is involved in sexual activity. Here are a few (rather blunt) examples:

1. Hickies or a disheveled appearance after a night out. (If you see it, say something.)

2. If your teen has been a social drinker, smoked, or has used drugs – negative behaviors come in clumps.

3. If your teen spends time with friends that you think may be sexually active, or engaged in one of these other risky behaviors – your teen could be influenced.

4. If your teen spends a great deal of time away from your house, is left in the house unsupervised before you get home from work, or chooses to be locked away in a bedroom or basement with a friend of the opposite sex when they “hang out.”

Those may seem obvious, parents, but they’re worth stating. Don’t be afraid to address these points with your teen.

But the best way to know if your teenager has become sexually active is to ask him or her outright. Use a non-accusatory, open ended question: “I heard a story about a girl today who… What do you think about that? Have you experienced any of that?” Getting a straight answer from your teenager requires that you build the foundation first. If your teen is used to you asking open ended questions that encourage dialogue, he or she has a better chance of answering all your questions honestly. When it comes time to ask about sex, hopefully his habit will stick. It’s best to start early. Parents, as you are forming the value of honesty in your children, be aware of your own tendency to fib or lie. We know kids mimic what they see.

Sometimes, however, despite your best efforts, your teens will still lie when faced with such a question. It’s not because you haven’t done a good job raising them. Their lying has more to do with their development – and wanting things their way – than it does with your parenting. This article states that tweens lie in order to grow in independence. They gloss over details, and occasionally like to pull a fast one on their parents to “see if they can get away with it.” A second article says that older teenagers often lie to avoid getting caught – but we all knew that. The best way to respond when you think or know they are lying is to ask why. If parents come at teens wanting to reason, it may open up a path for communication. Instant lecture will close it down.

Overall, parents, if you want to know what your teenagers are doing with the opposite sex – be involved in their lives. Know their friends, and their friends families. Be aware of their extracurricular activities. Be around, and available to help them reach goals.