From the time our children are old enough to speak and understand, we teach them some basic behaviors: play nicely, share, and tell the truth. We instill in their minds early on that telling lies is wrong and that negative consequences will arise when they are not honest.
Of course, every child, teenager, and adult lies from time to time. Often, these are minor indiscretions or white lies that cause little harm. But what happens when little lies become big ones and when occasional fibbing turns into a consistent pattern of behavior? With your teenagers in particular, compulsive lying can disrupt family life and create hostility and mistrust. There are some important strategies parents can use to manage and correct these challenging issues.
Recognize the Problem
Before you can take any action against your teen’s compulsive lying, you must first determine whether your teen’s issues with truthfulness is typical adolescent behavior or a serious problem that will require professional help. It’s a regular part of adolescence to experience mood swings, disobedience, and some rebelliousness. Don’t mistake your teen’s lies for ordinary, common attempts at independence. If the issues are minor and typical, a little patience and love is required. If the lying leads to more deviant behavior such as substance abuse, criminal activity, academic failure, risky sexual activity or attempted suicide, you should employ some more strict measures or even consult professional assistance for your son or daughter.
Give and Take
A chief reason teens lie is because they don’t think their parents will listen to them. Because they don’t think parents will make any exceptions to rules or won’t be willing to bargain at all, they see the only way to get what they want will be to deceive and lie.
To avoid this problem, or to minimize it, consider ways you can show your teen you trust them. Evaluate which rules are non-negotiable and which ones you are willing to amend. Consider activities you will allow your teen to delve into.
This approach accomplishes a few things. First, it allows your teen to see the consequences of his or her actions. And second, if the activity is not self-destructive it can restore trust that may have been lost between you and your son or daughter.
For the most severe cases of compulsive lying, where your teen’s habits are taking them down darker roads, there are programs especially designed to rehabilitate youth with behavioral problems. Wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment programs can all give your son or daughter specialized attention to diagnose and treat compulsive lying and other associated issues. Each of these provides treatment in group and one-on-one settings. They will also help your son or daughter repair and restore communication lines with you and others.
If your child’s lying is hindering your relationship and leading to more serious problems, don’t wait for things to get better, because chances are, they’ll only get worse. Address the problem and take appropriate action.