Lying is a common behaviour during adolescence. It can be a means of creating a sense of personal freedom, and distancing themselves from their parents, without wanting to worry them. It is normal for a teen to try and bend the truth if they are concerned about how their parents will react to their behaviour. Somewhere between turning a blind eye and overly harsh punishments are several ways to approach making your teen understand that lying is not acceptable behaviour. As a parent, taking a step back and trying to understand why your teen is bending the truth may help you intervene better.
A Scale of Severity for Lying
Every parent has different values; lies that may be acceptable to one parent may be totally unacceptable to another. It all depends on family values and cultural context. However, lies that are tied to an adolescent’s safety, or any that involve breaking the law, must be addressed immediately by parents, and consequences that are directly related to the severity of the lie must be established.
Everyone lies at some point or another in their life. Maybe it’s as simple as complimenting a friend on a new dress to make them feel a little better than it looks, or cancelling dinner plans because their child is ‘sick’, even if that’s not entirely true. So, it is important to remember that teenagers are often listening and trying to mimic their parent’s behaviour.
How to React when a Teen Lies
Depending on what feels most comfortable for you, here are several responses that you can try:
- Bring up the lie by explaining that everyone lies sometimes. However, remind them that honesty is an important virtue because it allows relationships to flourish based on trust.
- Let your teen know that you are not naïve and list the consequences they will face if it happens again (lose your trust, lose privileges, be watched more closely, etc.).
- Tell them that you are open to a discussion and that if they own up to the lie, they will have a better chance of the consequences being less severe. For example, you can say “I believe you are lying to me. I’m giving you a chance to tell me the truth right now, if you do, the consequences will be less severe”. The point is that your teen understands that telling the truth is more advantageous than continuing a lie.
- Encourage your teen to tell the truth by praising them for admitting to a lie; and remember how difficult it is to tell the truth when you’ve been caught in a lie.
- Give your intended consequence if you catch your teen in a lie. It is more effective to choose a consequence that remedies your teen’s actions rather than an unrelated consequence. For example, get them to apologize to the person they lied to, replace what they damaged if the lie was to cover it up, do a favour for the person they wronged, etc.
- Trying to trap your teen in a lie by putting them in a situation that you know will make them lie. For example, if your teen skipped school and their teacher has already informed you, avoid asking your child about their day at school. Or, if you are aware that they did something wrong, avoid pushing them to lie to you by asking if they did it. Instinctively, they will probably deny it.
- Accusing them of being a liar and labelling them as such. Just because they lie as a teenager doesn’t mean they will be a liar for the rest of their life.