When I work with teens, there are certain topics that are often more emotionally charged than others. One such topic is the quality of their relationship with one or both parents. Before I even begin to impart strategies for strengthening this relationship, I always ask the following two questions.
What do teens want most from their parents?
What do parents want most from their teenager?
While their answers often vary, we eventually come to the conclusion that teens want independence from their parents, and parents want to know that they can trust their child. It’s common for teenagers to see it as a game of tug-of-war in which they must pull hard enough to gain the independence they so desire. What they often fail to realize is the fact that their parents are on the other end of this tug-of-war and aren’t going to simply let go, nor should they. What ensues is a never ending battle, which leads to the absence of authentic communication and ultimately a fractured relationship. Knowing that both sides have very different objectives, how can we as parents find some common ground?
My answer? Put the rope down and introduce your child to the concept of a trust bucket.
Let’s face it; no one is going to win the tug-of-war. If you have a teenager, you may have already realized that the harder you pull, the harder they pull back. It often manifests in the form of rebellion. However, if a teenager can learn to let go of the rope and focus on filling the trust bucket that exists between parent and child, the results are much different.
What is a trust bucket, you might ask? Some of you may have heard of the book titled Have You Filled a Bucket Today, which uses the bucket as a metaphor of our thoughts and feelings about ourselves (click here to learn more). When we say or do kind things for other people, we fill their bucket (and our own). Conversely, when we mistreat other people, we dip from their bucket (and our own). All day long, we are either filling or dipping from buckets. It’s a simple concept, but one that we can all benefit from.
I’ve taken the idea of a personal bucket a step further and talk with students about their trust buckets, which are mutual buckets that exist between any two individuals who constitute a relationship. Having said this, every teenager has a trust bucket with their parents. If the trust bucket is empty, due in large part to the actions (or inactions) of the teenager, parents are less likely to relinquish control. However, if the trust bucket is full, parents are more likely to give their child the independence they desire. Why? Because parents make choices based on how much they can trust their child.
Below are some examples of actions that will always serve as trust bucket fillers. I invite you to share these with your teenager in an effort to help them understand the idea of the trust bucket.
Be honest. Parents are expert lie detectors. Even if you have made a mistake, your willingness to tell the truth will stop the trust bucket from leaking. You can’t talk yourself out of a problem that you behaved yourself into.
Keep your promises. Each time you say you are going to do something and don’t do it, you are dipping from the trust bucket. This is true in any relationship. If you fail to keep a promise, then offer a sincere apology and begin formulating a plan to re-fill the trust bucket.
Do small acts of kindness. Clean the kitchen when you aren’t even asked to. Write your parents a note expressing your gratitude. Any small act of kindness will go a long way in filling a trust bucket.
Practice empathy. Try to understand how your parents are feeling. Remember, they have challenges in life just like you do. When you listen to them and attempt to understand what they are thinking and/or feeling, you are making a huge deposit in the trust bucket. You don’t always have to agree with them, but you can always seek to understand them.
Parents, please remember that the trust bucket works both ways. When we do the very things we expect our children to do, their trust for us grows as well.
Happy bucket filling!