Trust and honesty are two issues that many college students struggle with. Most people, young and old alike, want to be known as trustworthy and honest. However, too often we betray the trust we seek and tell lies.
Once the pattern of betrayal and dishonesty has begun, it is hard to reclaim trust and honesty, even when we work at it.
As parents, we want to trust and believe our children. Most of us try to instill those principles when our children are very young. We teach those principles by example and by how we live. If our children witness betrayal and dishonesty, they will probably be hesitant to trust and will be less than honest.
When most of us were growing up, we could count on certain people to be role models for trust and honesty. Unfortunately, every career path has been blemished with people who have betrayed the public trust and have been less than honest. The clergy, law enforcement, athletes, teachers, doctors, lawyers and countless other helping professionals have betrayed the public trust and lied. Yes, in most professions it is a negligible percent. That is immaterial. The fact is that it has happened. Countless people feel violated, and they should.
However, the danger is to get stuck there and/or hide behind the inappropriateness of another, as if it might excuse our own benign neglect.
If anything, the present climate should challenge us even more to be attentive to the issues of trust and honesty. Too many of our important values are at best tentative and have all kinds of attachments and conditions. Thus, giving our children a very mixed message.
From early on our children see the manipulation of trust and the betrayal of truth. As adults, we pick and choose the social rules we obey. How many of us smoked cigarettes in high school, even though the law said you had to be eighteen? Or maybe we had a junior license and manipulated our parents into letting us use the car, even though that was not in compliance with the law?
It is summer time. How many of us who have juniors and seniors in high school and/or college age students under twenty-one know the drinking age, but will feel compelled to tolerate our kids non-compliance in this area? Some of us will pretend the tension doesn't exist and others will make excuses for our young adults inappropriate decision-making.
Honesty and truth between children and parents must be grounded in an open, straightforward approach to their relationship. All participants must connect with blame, shame and guilt, and make every effort, even when it is painful and difficult to really listen.
If we genuinely make that effort, we might hear and see things that we would prefer not to. However, that kind of candor will strengthen our trust and honesty with our children.
The greatest impediment between parents and children is fear. Our children are afraid of our reactions. Fear too often causes distance and even isolation that will eventually infect the trust and honesty that was once present.
MJ is fifteen. He is a good student and is involved in a variety of school related activities. He feels his parents are too strict and controlling. Regularly he claims that none of his friends' parents make demands on their social lives like his parents do.
At fifteen, his friends have no curfews. They are allowed sleepovers. Their parents (according to MJ) tolerate occasional social drinking and smoking pot, because they know "everyone is doing it."
MJ's parents are having a really hard time with their son. He is pressing every button and pushing every boundary. His latest strategy is half-truths. He doesn't really lie (according to him), but he leaves significant information out of important conversations. When he is confronted on this point, he claims that if he told the whole story without any "poetic adjustments," his parents wouldn't understand. MJ subscribes to the teenage philosophy, "what they don't know won't hurt them."
Needless to say, that kind of thinking causes MJ's parents to go ballistic. They will admit that at times they do overreact, partly because they are frightened and partly because MJ is starting to develop a pattern of deception and dishonesty that is very troubling.
Probably the most disturbing social issue for this family is MJ's constant request for sleepovers. On principle, his parents are very resistant because MJ gives them little or no information on these social happenings. When they ask inquiring questions, he gets crazed. He gives an academy award winning performance on how hurt he is that they don't trust him and that they question his honesty.
What MJ does not admit to, which is the fact, is that during the last six months he has been less than honest and open with his parents. They have caught him in dozens of lies and half-truths. Thus, his credibility is shot.
Even with a poor track record, MJ is relentless in asking his parents for sleepovers. For a few weeks, he was pretty cooperative with them. He asked for a sleepover. His parents said yes, as long as they could speak to his friend's parents to verify that it was okay for MJ to sleepover.
MJ started to rant and rave about that request. He said that would embarrass him and that his friends would torment him. He said, "You know these parents just trust me." They went back and forth. Finally MJ's parents gave in and agreed to trust him.
The weekend came. MJ left after dinner to hang out with friends and stay overnight at QR's house. Around three in the morning, the police called. MJ, QR and another boy were in custody at the precinct. The officer said they were involved in a drunk driving accident. The person they hit was in serious condition, but was expected to live. None of the boys were hurt. The third boy was eighteen and was driving with a suspended license. He was legally drunk and the other two had been drinking as well.
MJ's parents met QR's parents at the precinct as each set of parents was picking up their son. After a brief conversation, both sets of parents realized they had been duped. Each son had lied and said he was staying at the other's house with parental permission. Meanwhile, the boys were planning on camping out at the beach after they went to a summer keg party. Both boys knew that their parents would not approve but felt in their eyes that "a little white lie" wouldn't hurt.
They never expected to be arrested. They never expected to be responsible for causing an accident and causing an innocent person serious harm.
The parents involved made the mistake of not following up and verifying parental permission and supervision. Four people could have been killed because of this betrayal of trust and manipulation of the truth.
As parents, we have an obligation to make sure our teenagers are properly supervised, whether they like it or not. The failure to act responsibly in this area could cost someone his or her life. Saying you're sorry isn't going to bring him or her back.