Getting Past the Lies: Teens Struggling to Trust Their Parents Again

Can teens learn to trust their parents again after years of addiction-related lies?

Steve’s dad forgets to pick him up from practice again. More accurately, he’s probably too drunk to remember. And this isn’t the first time Steve’s dad has let him down.

Steve doesn’t know why he keeps trying with his dad. He’s always disappointed. Can he ever trust his father to be there for him?

When Parents Forget to Parent

Reports show between 2002 and 2007, 12 percent of American children were living with a parent dealing with a substance abuse problem. That’s 8 million kids.

Teens in this situation learn to fend for themselves. Their parents aren’t reliable, so they develop ways of coping on their own. Teens take care of household chores, finances, younger siblings and maybe even their parents.

It’s a sad scenario that causes a great deal of emotional trauma. Teens become distrustful of everyone. They shut down their feelings. They’re forced to learn the mantra “don’t trust, don’t feel, don’t speak.”

When Parents Get Help

So, what happens when Steve’s dad decides to sober up? After he goes to rehab, is everything okay? Is Steve supposed to just magically and instantly trust him again?

That’s not usually how it works. When a parent goes to rehab or receives other treatment, teens experience a range of emotions - from relief that their parent is getting help, to feelings of abandonment, anger and resentment. But there is hope. Trust can be rebuilt.

If you’re torn between giving up on your parent and a desire to trust again, consider the following tips:

  • Learn about Addiction: How much do you know about substance abuse? Do you understand what your parent’s going through? You don’t have to excuse his behavior, but it helps to build a bridge if you have a better grasp of his struggle. This also gives you a better idea of how you can help him and what’s feeding his addiction. And if you’re wrestling with guilt and blame, it helps you see that his addiction isn’t your fault.
  • Go Slow: Give your parent opportunities to re-earn your trust with small things. Once he proves himself with those, you can move on to trusting him with the bigger things. Work on incremental change with small steps. As he shows he’s making an effort to change, you can grant him a little bit more trust. It’s understandable if you can’t open the floodgates of trust right away. The bridge of trust has been broken and you have to work together to rebuild it.
  • Be Open to Optimism: It’s easy to focus on past mistakes and develop a pessimistic attitude. Rather than get your hopes up, it’s tempting to give up on him. Instead, make the effort to look for the positives. Let him know when he does something right and tell him you’re proud of him.
  • Get a Support System: After dealing with a chemically dependent parent, you’re unable to trust anyone. You’re so used to being the “responsible one” it’s hard to reach out. Don’t go through this alone. As you work to rebuild your relationship and trust with your parent, get support for yourself. Friends, family members, teachers, counselors, support groups, coaches and mentors are a great source of help.

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