Why Do Teens Lie?
Kids lie for all sorts of reasons. My teenage daughter once said to me, “kids have to lie mom; otherwise we can’t do what we want.” During adolescence, parental feelings and preferences aren’t as important as they were when the child was young. Many (but not all) kids assert themselves by rebelling against family values. Pleasing their friends becomes more important than following the rules. So when teenagers have to choose between lying to a parent and disappointing a friend, parents generally lose that coin toss. If lying becomes frequent, though, or if you have other “pit in the stomach” concerns, a more serious problem could be developing, and then it’s a good idea to seek professional help.
How can you tell if your teen is lying?
Knowing whether or not your teen is lying isn’t easy for a variety of reasons: Parents want to believe that their kids are truthful, making that kind of accusation feels awful, and teenagers get pretty good at concocting credible stories to explain questionable circumstances. If kids are basically managing their lives appropriately, lying will make them anxious. They’ll probably avert their eyes and be in a hurry to get out the door. But teenagers who are not lying can act this way too! Look for patterns: Are your teens usually where they are supposed to be? Do they generally stick to curfew and come home clear-headed? Do you know at least some of their friends? Are they doing their school work and getting decent grades?
What types of consequences are appropriate?
Grilling teens to ferret out the truth doesn’t’ make them more honest. It makes them more deceptive. Letting your teen know that you’re paying attention goes a long way. When something minor happens have a heart to heart about it. More serious lies deserve more serious consequences – restrictions, chores around the house, loss of car or time on electronics. Threatening, belittling, and shaming a teen makes matters worse. Reasonable consequences may make teenagers angry but it won’t undermine your relationship with them. Kids need to know they’re loved, even when they get into trouble.
How can you set a good example?
Kids learn what to expect from family life by watching their mothers and fathers. So the most obvious way to set an example is for parents to be truthful themselves. There are also more subtle ways: Keep the lines of communication open. Teenagers need to know that when they mess up their parents can handle it. In addition, demonstrate self-respect and respect for others. Finally, have fun together and be generous with your kindness and patience. This style of parenting doesn’t prevent lying. But these qualities are absorbed by children as they grow up and will influence them as they mature.
Loren Buckner, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Tampa, Florida. She is also the author of ParentWise: The Emotional Challenges of Family Life and How to Deal With Them.