If there is one thing I will not tolerate from my children, it’s lying. The number one rule in our household is the truth is spoken at all times. Lying is unacceptable. I remember growing up and putting myself in situations where I’d lie to get myself out of trouble, and it never ended well. It might seem all right for a moment, but the truth always prevails.
So much of my teenage existence was me lying to get out of a situation I put myself in and then feeling as if I had no choice but to create additional lies to continue my cover. It was not worth it. Of course, as a teenage girl, I didn’t know any better. I wish I’d known then what I know now.
Now, I know better. I cannot go back decades and tell myself that the truth is always the best option, so I make sure I instill this lesson in the minds of my kids. My husband and I tell our children all the time that they will be in far less trouble if they tell the truth immediately than if they lie.
It’s a lesson I don’t take lightly – and it’s probably where I am strictest as a parent. Well, that and bedtime. These kids need to be in their rooms at 8 pm…I’m done with them after 14 hours.
The point I’m making, though, is that handling a teenager who lies can be a touchy subject. If your teen is lying, understanding the who, what, when, where, and why of it all is paramount. Simply catching your child in a lie and disciplining them is not enough. You need to understand. Here’s what you need to do when your teen is lying.
Lying is Rarely Black and White
Few things in life are black and white, and lying is no exception to the rule. Perhaps you stand upon your moral high ground with the belief that any lie is a bad one. It’s simply untrue. We lie to our kids all the time by allowing them to believe a fairy comes into our home in the middle of the night to exchange money for teeth.
My husband and I allow our kids to believe that Mr. Elf is real, and that he flies around our house at night doing mischievous things for the kids to discover when they rise every December morning.
I lied to my husband regularly when we went through the most difficult moments in our marriage. I miscarried twice in a row before we welcomed our second baby, and I told him I was okay every single day when he asked. Honestly, I wasn’t okay. I was never okay.
The other most difficult moment in our marriage came when our son suffered an unprovoked grand mal seizure a month before his fifth birthday. I still lie to my husband – I’m not all right. I’ve never been completely all right since either of those things happened. But I need him to be okay, so I lie to him that I’m okay. And he lies to me when he pretends to believe me. I know this because I know he recognizes the lie, and I know he overcompensates for it with flowers, texts, dates, gifts, and moments.
Lying is something we do on a regular basis, and most of us do it for the greater good. We don’t want to lie to someone we care about by telling them their new hairstyle is awful or that they’ve gained weight. Instead, we lie. “You look fabulous!” Before you allow your anger and disappointment to get the best of you with your child, it’s imperative you understand lying is not black and white.
Why Do Teens Lie?
According to Psychology Today, there are three types of lies. Lying by omission means you lie by simply avoiding the truth. Lying by avoidance is the act of steering the conversation on to topics you’re happy to talk about while simultaneously steering clear of things you don’t want to talk about. Finally, lying by commission is a blatant lie, and often considered the worst type. You omit nothing, and you don’t avoid it – you simply lie your way through it.
There is no singular reason why teens lie. Sometimes, they don’t even realize they’re lying. They’re simply passing on information they believe to be true – or don’t know isn’t true – and it’s a lie. Other times, your teen is lying to protect you (that they’re not afraid, or they are not worried, or that their school bully is leaving you alone) because they simply don’t want you to worry. That makes us wonder: What are the reasons teens lie?
The Most Common Reasons Teens Lie
- Image – This is a lie a teen tells so they look cooler, better, or more exciting. We all do it. We subtract a few pounds from our weight or add an inch to our height, maybe take a few years off of our age. It’s all about image. We all want to seem a little cooler than we are.
- Want – This type of lie occurs when a teen wants something. They want to play video games instead of doing homework, for instance. So, they lie about doing their homework so they can do what they want.
- Defiance – This is one of those reasons that you must pay attention to. When you lie simply to defy someone, it’s a problem. This is the kind of lie a teen tells simply to see what they can get away with. Be careful with this one.
- Protection – Sometimes, lying is done to protect someone. For example, the parent with a health issue tells their kids they are fine when they are not. They don’t want anyone to worry, so they lie about it. In the mind of someone lying like this, they’re not doing it to hurt you. They’re doing it to protect you.
- To Get Out of Trouble – The single most common reason teens lie is to get out of trouble. They simply don’t understand that owning up to their mistakes is a lot less severe than lying about them.
- Fear – Lying because of fear can be dangerous. The most important question to ask here is why is someone so fearful they’d rather lie about something? Understanding this fear is paramount.
- Attention – Some kids like to play the victim, and they lie simply for attention. They make up scenarios in which they can be the victim, and they revel in the attention.
Remain Calm When Speaking With Your Teen
When you realize your teen is lying, take a moment. Take a few. If my temper has taught me anything over the years, it’s that no one likes to listen to a parent when they’re yelling and irrational. Anger induces anger. However, being calm and direct with your kids is almost terrifying. When my parents yelled at me, I simply shut down and thought to myself that they’re so wrong and they’re jerks who just don’t understand. When they were calm and reasonable – and when they used the term disappointed – I was terrified. It’s one thing to upset my parents, but it’s another to think I’ve disappointed them.
If you need time, take it. Don’t approach your lying teen until you’ve had a chance to calm down and relax. I know, right? Me telling you to calm down – we all know how well a woman takes to hearing that phrase uttered. But from one woman and mom to another, take the time. Calm down, and then approach your teen. If nothing else, try to remember that talking to them when you are calm almost guarantees you will not say anything you regret later. You’re welcome.
Listen to Your Teen and Allow Them To Explain Why They Felt Lying Was Appropriate
The next step is to talk to your teen about their lies. Don’t accuse, and don’t talk down to your teen. Instead, approach them, tell them you are hurt by their lies, and present them with irrefutable evidence of the lie. Ask your teen why they lied, and then really listen to the reason they give. It might be anything, but the reason is the key to discipline, understanding, and preventing future lies.
If you need more time to process the information gleaned from this conversation, ask your teen to give you a few moments while you process. Come back to the conversation later. Now that you understand why your teen lied, it is important to relate to it. Let your teen know that you understand the reason behind the lie (whether they were protecting someone or they really wanted something or they were afraid of getting in trouble), but that it’s unacceptable any way.
If the lie was innocuous and done to protect your feelings (lying about how good a new dress looks on you when they hated it), there’s probably no need for discipline. However, this is a great opening for further discussion about how sometimes lying is the best course of action. The point here is to open the line of communication and let your child know that you’re always there to talk.
Discuss the Consequences of Lying
Every lie has a consequence – though some necessary lies result in a positive consequence. For example, if your teen did lie to you about looking good in an awful dress, the consequence was your increased self-confidence. Nothing bad came from that. However, not all lies end well. There are consequences, and this is the moment you have to discuss those.
There are so many types of lies and potential consequences that you’re going to need to use the specific situation. Discuss the consequences of the lie your teen told when you have this conversation. It helps them understand the future when many kids fail to think that far ahead. They lie to fix the ‘right now’ but fail to realize how that one lie will affect the future.
Use Your Judgement to Determine the Best Form of Discipline for Your Teen
Here’s the moment of truth when dealing with a lying teenager. Do you discipline them or not? Was the lie serious enough to warrant discipline? Sometimes, it won’t be. Other times, it will be. This is the defining moment, however. If your child lied seriously, the disciplinary actions you take right now might make the difference between further lies and a more honest approach to life.
One helpful piece of advice is to decide as a family what type of discipline is appropriate. Teens tend to respond better if they have a say in things. In fact, their idea of discipline might exceed yours. The point is that you must decide what to do in this situation. Oftentimes, I find that the punishment fitting the crime is a great way to discipline my kids.
For example, my middle daughter is a hot mess of hoarding disastrous messiness. She’s amazing in 99.9 percent of everything she does and is in life, but she has no concept of cleanliness in her bedroom – nor does she care. Typically, when I remind her to clean her room, she does. Recently, however, we discovered that her idea of cleaning her room was shoving everything in a box in her closet rather than putting it away.
She did this because she was on the phone with her friends, and she didn’t want to be interrupted. So, her punishment was losing her phone privileges for the weekend. The new rule is that no one can use the phone or iPad until their room is clean – mommy and daddy clean. It’s worked well.
What if My Teen Lies Compulsively?
This is a situation for a mental health provider. A teen who lies to you is not uncommon. A teen who likes compulsively might have more serious issues. Compulsive lying is a common trait in mental health disorders. If your teen is a compulsive liar, please contact your child’s pediatrician and ask for recommendations.
Remember that a fib is not the same thing as a lie. Only you can determine the severity of your teen’s lies, and only you can figure out the next steps. Do remember this, mom and dad: You are not alone. And you probably went through your own moments of telling non-truths. Give grace, and model a good example of honesty for your kids, and you very likely won’t need to worry too much about your own teens.
Additional Resources for Parents
- Parenting after divorce
- Dealing with Spoiled Kids
- Dealing with out of control teenagers
- What is the Ferber Method and Should You Bother?
- 20 Parenting Hacks for Your Next Disney Trip