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How To Counsel Parents To Build Trust With Their Teen

by Leanne Hall
Posted: October 31, 2016

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Adolescence often signifies big social and emotional changes for children as they transition into adults. The role of a counsellor is to help parents maintain trust, communication and acceptance with their teen while this occurs. Psychology expert, Leanne Hall, explains how to help parents readjust to these relationships during this time.

Living with a teenager can be like living on an emotional rollercoaster, with an erratic driver. You never quite know what to expect, and you never really know where you will end up. 

As such, moving from childhood to adulthood into that awkward stage of adolescence can at times be equally frustrating and distressing for both parent and teen. So how can you counsel parents to build trust and foster communication in these family relationships? 

Parental anxiety

How to counsel a parent and teen, with school counsellor to build trust and stop parental anxity

For parent’s this can involve a huge adjustment. Their once “compliant’ child who would tell them everything from who their friends are to their toilet habits, now spends way too much time in their room and responds to questions about their day with a one syllable one-word answer. It can feel like rejection. 

And for parents, this can trigger a huge spike in anxiety. “What are they hiding? Why aren’t they telling me things anymore? What have I done wrong?”. These are extremely common and very normal questions that many parents will ask themselves during this period. 

The unknown can be terrifying for parents. This can result in paranoid thinking and an over-assumption of risk. The hard part for parents is learning how to be aware of the difference between their fears and reality, and to learn how to build trust with their teen. This means letting go of the idea that as a parent, we need to know everything to feel secure that our child is safe.

After all, just because your teen doesn’t confide in you, does not necessarily mean anything is wrong. What it may mean, is that your teen fears disapproval and wants to avoid the very real risk that their parent may view them as less than “perfect” – No teen wants to come crashing down off that “perfect” childhood pedestal

As such, in an attempt to preserve their parent's view of them, they will close down. And spend more time in their room. And confide more in their peers. 

So what can parents do?

A mother parent teaching her red headed daughter how to drive and learning how to build trust with her teenager

Parental instinct often kicks in at full flight during this time. When a parent feels that rollercoaster gain speed, they will have an overwhelming urge to take control. To jump in the driver’s seat and slow the thing down. 

The problem is, it’s not their rollercoaster to control. It belongs to their teenager. This is the number one adjustment that any parent of a teenager needs to make. Accept that they are a passenger and that their teen is in control (even if it’s a rough ride!). 

Think of it like learning to drive a car. What would happen if you threw the driver out of a car mid-flight on the freeway to take control of the wheel? Would it not be more productive (and a whole lot safer) if you simply accepted your role as a passenger and instead used the opportunity to teach the person how to drive?

The funny thing is, that by accepting their role as a passenger, a parent has more of a chance at being involved in the journey. Whereas by fighting it and trying to take control of the wheel, they are likely to be booted out all-together! 

5 critical Do’s and Don’ts

Mother and teenager son in striped tshirt showing affection and trust to one another

Let’s be clear. Parents make mistakes all the time, and so do their teenagers. This is all part of the learning process and should be accepted as completely normal. For parent’s, openly admitting mistakes and apologising to their teen when they stuff up can serve as a powerful tool in teaching their teen to accept their own imperfections. 

It also builds trust, which is critical in any relationship – especially when a parent is trying to reconnect with their teenager. Reconnection starts with communication, and open communication depends on trust. Read more thoughts for better living here.

For any teenager, they need to feel as though their parent/s will love them no matter what. As such, it’s always a good idea for parents to separate their teen's behaviour from who they are as a person. 

For example, if their teen fails to do their chores – focus on the behaviour as opposed to using the behaviour to describe the person (e.g, “you’re so lazy” “you’re so selfish”). Instead, by focusing on their behaviour and your expectations of them – you can then focus on implementing appropriate consequences while at the same time preserving trust and unconditional love/acceptance. 

With that in mind, while there is a number of DO’s and DON’Ts when it comes to reconnecting with teenagers, below are the top 5. These tips are all about encouraging communication and fostering a sense of trust. 

DON’T judge

DO be mindful of your reactions and try to be open minded

DON’T get angry or hostile DO let your emotions inform you – by taking the opportunity to educate and guide your teen.
DON’T talk about “when I was your age” DO try and understand the unique pressures and expectations placed on teens today.
DON’T tell them what to do DO use the opportunity to teach your teen problem-solving skills
DON’T make assumptions, no matter how well you think you know your teen. DO take the time to listen and understand from their point of view


Becoming a teenager is all about self-discovery, and identity development. In order to negotiate this sometimes difficult developmental phase, parents need to think of themselves as more of a coach. 

Someone who is respected, but who is also there to guide, assist, teach and advise, but ultimately – a passenger, not a driver. For most parents, their greatest fear (aside from harm coming to their child), is to be rejected and shut out of their child’s life. 

As such, the role of a counsellor is to gently shift their perspective while educating and addressing parental anxiety. It’s a delicate balance – but getting it right is the only sustainable way to guarantee reconnection between a parent and their teenager.

Interested in Counselling as a career? Acquire the skills to help others resolve their issues and find direction by offering unbiased guidance and support with a nationally recognised qualification.


Leanne Hall

Leanne has been transforming lives for over 15 years as the mind and body expert for Channel 10 and as a practising clinical psychologist. Leanne Hall motivates her patients to achieve a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle using positive psychology and “mindfulness” techniques, holistic nutrition and exercise. Leanne's expertise covers everything from how the beauty myth impacts women's self-esteem, mental health and fitness.

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