Developing trust among middle schoolers: Here's what to know

As your child gets older, they are learning more about the role that trust plays in their relationships.
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By Michelle Balani

Trust forms the basis of every functional relationship. As your child gets older, he is learning more about the role that trust plays in his relationships and finding ways to apply it to his social interactions. You can begin to build your child’s ability to trust by being supportive, listening to his concerns, and trying to follow through on your commitments and promises. By doing this, you are showing him what a trusting relationship looks like, and you are helping to form the foundation on which his future relationships will be built.

Making your child feel that his voice matters and will be heard helps enhance his sense of trust and validation. Talk to your adolescent regularly about his social world and interests, and acknowledge him when he acts in a responsible and trustworthy manner. If he does something to damage your trust, communicate with him clearly and firmly about why this is inappropriate, and ask him how he could do better the next time. Children this age are very concerned with their privacy, and if your adolescent comes to you with a concern or tells you something in confidence, try not to share it with others. Your child needs to know that he can trust you, and by allowing what he says to you to remain private, you are showing him that he can. He may not want to share everything with you, and unless you suspect that he is hiding something that could cause him harm, allow him to keep some matters private, as this will help solidify the trust between the two of you.

Education consultant Jennifer Miller suggests that you talk about which items are private and which are not. For example, a backpack serves as a communication vehicle between school and home, so parents need access to it. A diary or journal, on the other hand, should be kept private.

Discuss friendship dos and don’ts. You may also want to discuss your teen’s friendships and the role that trust plays in all relationships. For example, you can tell him that it is important to stand up for friends and not to share their secrets, and that he should expect the same in return. It’s also important for him to understand the types of behavior that can cause friendships to end. Explain that bragging, gossiping, judging, or putting others down is not proper behavior and can hurt people. If you see or hear of him doing any of these things, gently remind him how he would feel if this were done to him, and provide him with suggestions on how he can apologize or make things better. When you see him being kind or trustworthy, make sure to acknowledge that too, as positive reinforcement is often the best way to teach teenagers about social awareness.

Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Maurice Elias adds that sometimes adolescents extend too much trust to their friends, and you should be alert to when friends may take advantage of your child’s trust. Elias suggests that you point out these examples and use them as teachable moments.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, and Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids.