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Teen Home Alone

Both my husband and I work. Thus, or son is home alone during the day (after school). We cannot supervise him and have told him not to have any friends over while we are away. He violates this request regularly. Any advice?

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As dual-earner families have become the norm, the different kinds of 'time' kids spend with parents has become an important issue. I suggest that simple parental presence or absence is not necessarily the main problem for teens that are irresponsible with “home alone” time. Rather, it is the lack of trust between parent and teen.

All relationships are based on trust. Kids want and need to trust their parents. Parents want (and need) to trust their kids. Trust makes honest communication possible; it builds relational bridges; it gives meaning to our respective roles; it provides security; it stimulates responsibility and caring. If a teen never learns to trust, the results can be devastating.

“Trusting” must be learned. Even the world of psychology recognizes that kids are born without the ability to trust. Developmentally, kids learn to trust as they bond with their parents.

This is why the OPS program uses a two-pronged approach: assertive parenting (e.g., the 3-day discipline) alongside a steady diet of nurturing (e.g., catching kids doing things right).

For many families, broken trust is an ongoing cycle -- the teen lies, breaks curfew, experiments with drugs, or gets into trouble at school. The parents respond with guilt trips, threats to take away privileges, and violations of their teen's privacy. Both sides feel trust has been broken beyond repair.

Trust is a fundamental building block of parent-teen relationships, especially as kids develop into teenagers. In general, trust is broken when a parent or teen acts in a way that doesn't meet the other's expectations. Both parents and teens break the other's trust when they engage in outbursts or temper tantrums, guilt trips, or threats of any kind. Parents lose their teen's trust when they fail to set and enforce limits and when they resort to snooping or spying to learn about their teen's life.

Trust is a two-way street. In order to gain their parents' trust, teens have to demonstrate a pattern of trustworthy behavior. Every time a teen follows a rule or meets their parent's expectation, the baseline trust and respect expand. The key is remembering trust builds slowly and can be broken down easily. For every five times you do the right thing, it only takes one poor decision to undo the trust you've built.

Just as every teen wants to be trusted, every parent needs to earn their teen's trust. A parent builds trust every time he treats others with respect, follows through on a commitment or promise, or stands firm in setting and enforcing boundaries. This doesn't necessarily mean your kids will 'like' you or treat you like a friend. But trust has little to do with how much we like someone or their decisions. Rather, it is the firm belief in the honesty and reliability of another person. That's what being a parent is all about - giving a teen what they need, not necessarily what they want.

Here are some steps parents can take to rebuild trust after it has been broken:

· Create a roadmap for success—Telling a teen to "act his age" or "do the right thing" won't give him the information he needs to win your trust. Instead, give him specific benchmarks that will help him meet your expectations. Explain that while behaviors like cursing, slamming doors, ignoring homework assignments, and talking back will diminish trust, behaviors like finishing chores on time, getting good grades, and calling to check in at a designated time will increase trust.

· Explain the benefits—When parents trust their teen, everyone benefits. Since teens tend to be somewhat self-absorbed, you may need to explain the concrete ways in which a trusting relationship will benefit your teen. For example, a teen may earn greater privileges like a later curfew, permission to drive the family car more often, more time with friends, or the freedom to go on that trip he has been planning. By explaining how trust is relevant to him, how it can make life at home more peaceful and supportive, and how it can improve his life in general, he's more likely to stay motivated to do the hard work.

· Give positive reinforcement—When your teen meets your expectations, verbally reinforce those positive behaviors by acknowledging his efforts. Show your appreciation with a simple "thank you" or pat on the back, and offer additional privileges and rewards as he becomes more trustworthy. By giving positive feedback, your teen sees that you, the parent, are willing to do the work, and he will feel encouraged to behave responsibly. 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. The ups and downs are all important parts of the process, and even small failures can result in stronger bonds. Sometimes teens need to take one step back before taking the next step forward. For the family's sake, both parents and teens need to be willing to try and try again.

· Open the lines of communication—Ask your teen open-ended questions about what trust is, how it was broken, and what steps can be taken to rebuild those bonds. Rather than assuming everyone knows what trust is, decide collectively on a family definition of trust, try to understand each other's perspective, and clear up any misunderstandings up front. Families should discuss the fact that trust is a two-way street and that both parent and teen have responsibilities in the process of reconnecting. As the family negotiates the rules and boundaries, schedule regular meetings to discuss your progress and evaluate any setbacks.

· Trust yourself—Parents are in the best position to know what's right for their kids. Even if both parent and teen are working hard to rebuild trust, both parties must set reasonable expectations of themselves and others. Trust grows slowly, piece by piece, with every good decision that is made. Trust-building is not an end in and of itself. It is an ongoing process of renegotiation and personal and collective growth that is required in every relationship. With communication, patience, and a little faith, you can replace past hurts with loving bonds and hope for a more fulfilling relationship.

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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You always make so much sense, as far as I'm concerned you're the "the new Dr. Phil." I have told numerous people about you, even my friend who is a family therapist.

We try to be logical, as opposed to emotional , but sometimes it's hard. Your " voice of reason " brings us back and helps put things in perspective with our son.

Can't thank you enough !!!

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