“Talk to a trustworthy adult.”
Did you ever hear that piece of advice, and then wonder: “How do I know if an adult is trustworthy?”
The reality is, not all adults are trustworthy.
I wish I didn’t have to say that, but we live in a broken, messed-up world, and some of the adults here are broken and messed-up too.
However, I want you to know that there are adults who do have your best interests at heart, people who will work hard for you and support you, no matter what.
Here are five characteristics of adults you can trust.
Trustworthy adults have your safety and well-being as their top priority.
When someone is truly trustworthy, they will make sure that you are safe and well. A trustworthy person won’t compromise those values. A trustworthy person won’t hurt you: physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually, or spiritually. A trustworthy person will put your safety and well-being first.
Trustworthy adults will respect your privacy without keeping dangerous secrets.
As a therapist, I work with a lot of adolescents and young adults. One of the things I always say to my young clients is this: “As my client, what you tell me is confidential. That means I don’t tell your story to other people. However, there are some important limits to confidentiality. One limit is this: if you tell me that you are going to harm yourself or someone else, I will have to bring some help in on that, because your safety and well-being is my primary concern. The second important limit is this: if you tell me about abuse of a child, an elderly person, or a person with disabilities, I am required by law to report those things, and I do. The third limitation is this: your parents or legal guardians need to know when you’re in distress so they can support you. I’ll ask them to respect your privacy, but we can’t keep secrets from them.”
I think any trustworthy adult should have those same limitations around critical issues: when there’s harm or abuse, it needs to be dealt with immediately, and parents normally need to be part of the team. If you are being abused by your parents, a trustworthy person will report that immediately.
Trustworthy adults will not tell you to keep dangerous secrets.
If you ever run into an adult who tells you to keep information about self-harm or abuse to yourself, that is not a trustworthy person. Find another adult and try again. The sad reality is this: there are some groups—even religious groups—where secrecy is prized above the well-being of group members. If you are unfortunate enough find yourself in a group like that, you may need to reach outside of your group for help. (See the list below for ideas.)
Trustworthy adults will listen to your concerns.
Whatever is going on with you, it matters. It’s important. It’s worth taking time for. It’s worth listening to. A trustworthy adult will take the time to truly listen, before giving advice.
Trustworthy adults will access appropriate resources.
Often, one other person is just not a big enough support team. Trustworthy adults understand their own limitations, and will be ready to access appropriate resources when needed.
I often recommend that my clients seek out additional resources. They may need to visit their doctor for medical help. It might be a good idea to attend a group. There are great books and blogs to read and follow. I am not the end-all and be-all for my clients, and I know that.
Here’s one more thing you can learn to do when evaluating if someone is trustworthy: trust yourself. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
When I’m with this person, do I feel valued?
When I’m with this person, do I feel heard?
When I’m with this person, do I feel safe?
When I’m with this person, do I feel hopeful?
If the answer to those questions is “yes,” then chances are, you’ve found a trustworthy adult.
Here are five places where you should be able to find a trustworthy adult:
Church administrative staff
School administrative or counseling staff
Local law enforcement: dial 911