The Number One Thing Kids & Teens Want their Parents to Know

Dr. Delaney Ruston – For the last decade, I’ve asked this one question to hundreds of kids and teens all over the country: 

“When it comes to screen time issues, what is the one thing you would want your parents to know?” And I almost always got the same response. “I want them to know they can trust me.” 

There was such sincerity in their eyes and voices as they told me this. And then, later, many would share with me various ways they have snuck screen time at home!

What became clear to me as we spoke further was when they talked about trust, they were actually talking about their need to feel trusted, and that was way bigger than any screen time issue. These kids would express how important it was to them that they felt like their parents had true confidence in their abilities — trust in their ability to succeed in life. 

Through reading the research on youth development, I have learned how much youth want and need confidence from their care providers, even when they act as if they don’t. I often think about all they are going through — navigating their endless self-critique and ongoing comparisons to others, both off and online. They are growing up in a society that idolizes individualism and competition, which can be incredibly taxing.  (This is why I loved last week’s article about ways we as parents can call out the many areas of strength we see in our kids).

You might be saying, wait, maybe they just meant they want their parents to trust them and stop bothering them about screen time rules. Sure, that might be true, but plenty of kids and tweens, and yes, even teens have told me that they need help not letting screen time take over — and that they appreciate having limits in their home. 

We know that fibbing, withholding key data, telling white lies, and telling big lies occur with our kids and teens (and adults). For many parents, even though we know this, we feel strong emotions when we learn our child has lied or withheld the truth. We take it personally and worry about our kids. It is really hard. It does not surprise me that in surveys of parents it is revealed that honesty is in the top 3 characteristics we want in our children. I am not condoning lying. I firmly believe that to build solid relationships, there needs to be a foundation of trust — and that is why calm conversations about this topic are important.

During COVID, there is a lot to discuss regarding who we trust on social media and the media at large. Talking about groups with long-standing existence such as the ACLU as a place to get information  — or the CDC or WHO as reliable sources. They have many people overseeing and double-checking information before it goes out into the world. There is plenty of clickbait and dubious posts that should not be trusted. 

This is a time of reflection about friendships and relationships and the mutual trust we’ve developed over time. I have so appreciated the emails and calls I have received from old friends. I have loved reaching out to people, by calling them and sending cards and chocolate (my joy to send).  

I always tell my students that the most meaningful things in life are things that have been challenging. Thinking about this today, this definitely can apply to our closest friends, particularly ones from childhood. There is a good chance that with your oldest friends, there were issues around trust or other issues, and it is because you worked things out during those hard times that you feel particularly close now.

Having a conversation today about trust is such a great talk to have, and hopefully, you are not in any family battles over trust issues right now. If you are, I recommend not getting too personal during your Tech Talk Tuesday time, and then have a conversation about trust at a later time. 

Ideas for conversation starters (questions to ask the youth in your life):

  1. Who are people you really trust in your life these days?  
  2. Do you feel that I have full confidence in you? (And let them know you do.)
  3. What do you trust online and why?
  4. Are there people from your past that you might want to reach out to?

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