Effective Communication with Teens: The Trust Jar Factor
Effective conversations with teens- the trust jar factor! If you turn on the TV, you will see in movies and tv shows that trust is always built with large sweeping gestures of surprise and glee, whether in romantic relationships or friendships etc. Although this idea has perpetuated itself throughout our lives, one my heroes in the field, Brené Brown, throughout her research, has found that trust is actually built in a very different way. She explains this idea that with each other relationships, we have a jar with marbles in it. She explains that when people do small things for us, each time, a marble is put in the jar. Examples could be showing up to a party they confirmed they would be at, remembering someone’s birthday, apologizing first for something you contributed to in an argument, or to check in on a difficult day upcoming for a friend. Each time something is remembered, followed up with, checked in with or spent intentional time with someone, marbles are added to the jar.
She explains in a similar way how marbles are taken out of the jar. Trust is gradually being lost, for example, not following through on something you agreed to, witnessing a lie or half-truth, leaving arguments without resolutions and recaps etc. This idea can be applied to all relationships, and starts to make more sense when you think of your own relationships. You may think of people who you do not have a lot of trust for, but it is hard to see why. There may have been small and gradual times their actions were removing marbles from the jar. In turn, trust can be built over time with longer relationships, but also trust can quickly develop in relationships with this idea as well, when someone is actively engaged in building trust daily.
This idea can be applied easily to relationships with children and their parents. I often have children come into my office, and parents have lost trust in them for either a big event or small gradual events that cause a rift in the relationship. Everyone wants relationships to heal quickly and seamlessly yet that are not possible. I explain to them that trust will be built over time as they gradually show they are capable of doing responsible things like chores, being ready on time, going somewhere they said they are going, coming home on time etc. This is obviously not the answer they want to hear, but it is they way trust is built with the parents. Other times, I have children in my office who have lost trust in their own parents or caregivers. Their parents may have said they would do something, and not followed through it, or not taken responsibility for their own part in a fight, or used some of their words and sharing against them etc. Children see similar patterns of behavior in their parents and doubt addressing issues will ever change because they tend to behave the same way, although it is not working for the relationship. There is no way to have productive and honest communication without trust; you may be talking to your child but you may not be getting the whole story without trust.
In order to be able to communicate, it is important that you assess your own actions in how you are building trust with your child. Are you spending time with them one on one? Are you making an effort to know what’s going on in their life, with friends, likes, dislikes, dreams, passions etc? When you get feedback(negative or positive) from your child, are you implementing it in the best way you can? In these cases, trust is built both ways. It takes showing up in conversations, asking the tough questions, “ How can I build back some trust with you?” may be a good place to start. Trust is one of the most important currency that we have with each other.
For more information on this idea and Brené Brown, please visit
***Disclaimer: This blog is the opinion of an individual and does not constitute professional advice or a professional relationship to the reader. If you are seeking mental health services, please contact a therapist in your area. If you are experiencing an emergency, please go to the nearest hospital or call 911.***