Teenagers tell lies, ranging from “little white lies” to those that border on illegal. Examples might include:
- “I finished my assignment.”
- “I was at the movies with friends.”
- “I didn’t know you wanted me to clean the whole kitchen.”
- “I don’t text and drive.”
- “I wasn’t drinking.”
As a parent, you might be puzzled as to why your teenager lies and wonder how to stop it. Sometimes, you don’t have to look much further than the subtle messages you have communicated in your own home to see how you have contributed to your teen’s dishonest behavior.
The Power of Your Example
To understand the dynamics of adolescent lying, reflect on the years you’ve spent raising your child. Consider the following:
- The emphasis you have placed on telling the truth
- The consequences for lying and if you have enforced them
- If you have modeled honesty in front of him or her and
- If you have knowingly or unintentionally reinforced dishonesty.
If you expect your teen to tell the truth, you need to consistently model honesty yourself. Many parents admit to telling a few “white lies” every now and then, and most justify it as normal, acceptable or even healthy.
Examples of Parental Lies
For example, you might know someone in these types of situations or have done these yourself:
- Two siblings live in the same household, and the younger has a nut allergy. Although the older sister does not share the ailment, the mother has convinced both girls that they are severely allergic to nuts and if they touch or eat any, they might possibly die. By telling her daughters this lie, she feels they will be safer.
- Mom sneaks a treat in the kitchen while kids aren’t looking. But when they see her chewing and ask “Mom, what are you eating?” Her reply “Nothing…” is a little lie the KNOW she is telling.
Other scenarios might include:
- Replacing the dead family goldfish with a new one before the kids find out
- Telling little ones their family dog went to a farm where he could have more room to run instead of sharing the truth about his death
- Telling Aunt Erma that you love her sweater and that she looks thinner than the last time you saw her but later, in front of children, telling someone that you really didn’t like her sweater
- Complementing the picture your daughter drew of a fairy that really looks like a two-headed monster but then quickly tossed in the trash when she wasn’t looking
- That “delicious” dinner your husband cooked that you fed to the dog under the table
We think that lying spares children — or others — from more serious hurts. After all, we justify that our motives are honorable since we are trying to protect our kids’ feelings. But we might wonder if these little white lies are sending the wrong messages to our children. Especially because in many instances, children preceive your dishonesty.
Possible Reasons Teens Lie
Opportunities to lie abound in society. If your actions have caused your child to believe that lying is permissible, you will have a difficult time reversing that belief when he is a teenager. If your child sees you lie to take the easy way out of a situation, you set a negative example for your child to follow. When you lie to avoid conflicts, you encourage your child to be dishonest. Lying to keep your child from life’s disappointments hinders his emotional growth and leaves him ill prepared to face life’s tragedies. Rather than protecting your child from worry through lying, sharing truth in an age-appropriate discussion creates a much more beneficial outcome.
If your parenting techniques model dishonesty, you can expect to have dishonest children. If you make a habit of justifying your lies, your kids will do the same. When your children become comfortable with lying, they will develop a negative habit that makes deceitfulness in other areas easier, especially in the adolescent years when the pressure to lie increases. As a parent, you must say that lying is wrong and do everything you can to model this belief in your everyday actions.
The Value of Honesty
The practice of honesty must start at home. The responsibility of teaching the value of honesty and its worth to your child from birth cannot be neglected. Let your child know at a young age that lying breaks down the trust in your relationship. Help your child to understand that the bond you share supersedes any situation they face. Nurturing truthfulness until it becomes a habit lays a foundation in your child’s life for sincerity and integrity.
Dealing with Lies
Even with the best of parenting, all children give into the temptation to lie at some point in time. Most children lie because they fear punishment or to assert their independence. The way you handle your child’s lying affects whether or not he will choose honesty when the next situation arises. If you place your child in a no-win situation —punishment for telling the truth and disclosing what he’s done or more punishment if he’s caught telling a lie — he will most likely take his chances and opt for the lie. In reality, he does not want to make either choice. Instead of backing your child into a corner where he has to come out fighting, a better way to handle the issue is to focus on the matter at hand and help your child use problem-solving skills to fix the situation, thus relieving the pressure to lie. Keep communication open without shaming, labeling or belittling your child and allow him room to make mistakes and learn from them. He or she will remember these lessons and carry them into adolescence.
Emphasis on Telling the Truth
Understand that teens, earnestly trying to navigate their way to adulthood, will not be perfect. Do not lower your standards, and do not overlook their offenses, but offer them the grace that they so desperately need. Allowing your young adult the opportunity to come to you for help cultivates a relationship of trust, and in time, you will see the dishonest behavior greatly diminish.
A final thought: If you have made parenting mistakes regarding lying, it’s never too late to start doing what is right. Honestly share your shortcomings with your teen and together, make the changes necessary to build honesty and integrity into your relationship and home.