Teens and Lying

Lying is not uncommon in children. At some point, most older children lie to avoid punishment, shirk a responsibility or protect their privacy. However, lying becomes a more serious problem when a child is telling stories to seek greater amounts of attention, it has become a more repetitive behavior that is easily fallen into, or your child is covering up another more dangerous problem, such as drug use. Whatever the teenager’s reason, parents need to treat lying seriously. The quality of family life depends on communication. There is no such thing as a small lie because when parents overlook one lie they only encourage the telling of another.  Here are some tips for parents on what to do to address lying:

Be a good role model

Children watch the adults in their lives very closely. When the school calls to ask you to volunteer and you lie “I’d love to, but I have such-and-such commitment” instead of saying “that’s not something I want to do right now,” you are teaching your child it is acceptable to lie. You must role model appropriate behavior in handling difficult situations. Be sure to talk about honesty and truthfulness within the context of your daily lives, not just when your child is in trouble for lying. Make it clear that honesty is a value that you hold dear. Praise them often for telling the truth, especially when it is difficult for them.

Offer alternatives to lying

If you have discovered that your child has lied to you, then it’s time to have a full discussion on the issue. Note the word ‘discussion,’ not lecture. Ask your teen why they lied and truly listen to their response. Stay calm – an emotional response will only reinforce their idea that you cannot handle the truth. Once you understand why your child lied, discuss how they could have chosen differently so that lying did not occur. Brainstorm different solutions for the problem that don’t resort to lies. Let your child suggest ways they can prevent lying in the future. Perhaps your child needs an alternative way of communicating with you to help them tell the truth. An example is writing in a journal back and forth to each other.

Set clear consequences for lying

Children need to know that lying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Declare that lying in the family will be treated as a serious offense. The child should apologize for their lying and be responsible for making some type of reparation. If they have hurt someone with their lie, then they can do something to repair the harm done. If there was no specific hurt, then the teen can perform some task they would not ordinarily do to work the offense off or losing their privileges to a cell phone, computer or TV for a certain period of time.

Explain the high costs of lying

To a child, lying can seem like a good idea at the time, especially if they’re using it to avoid a punishment, for example. To combat that thought process, it is helpful for parents to explain the common costs that liars must pay. Here are some of the negative consequences of lying:

  • Liars hurt the people they lie to. Explain how it feels to be lied to so the teenager understands the emotional impact. Remind them that others could feel hurt that their trust was taken advantage of, angry that they were mislead, or even scared because they no longer are sure what to believe.
  • Lying complicates your life. When you lie, you must remember two versions of reality: what actually occurred (the truth) and the lie they told. Keeping these two stories clear proves complicated and stressful to the liar. Often it is necessary for the liar to cover up the first lie with another which makes it more and more difficult to remember what they’ve said. It’s difficult to keep so many phony stories straight. Liars also fear the truth being discovered, often worrying whether their lie will hold up or be found out.
  • The results of lying can be worse than telling the truth. Lying is a bit of a gamble: if the teen’s lie is not found out, then there is no punishment, but if their lie is discovered, they will often receive one punishment for the offense and a second punishment for the lie. In addition, it is difficult for people to believe a liar, so liars lose credibility and are not believed even with they are telling the truth.
  • Liars hurt themselves. It takes courage to tell the truth. Liars are cowards, so every time they lie, the liar is lowering their own self-esteem. In addition, every time a lie is discovered, then the liar must deal with people who are angry or resentful. Sometimes to avoid a lie being discovered, liars will distance themselves from family and friends. Liars can become lonely people.

Final Tips

As a parent, if your child has lied to you, then be sure to follow through on the consequences. But after that is done, tell them you plan to trust them again and give your teen a second chance to resume an honest relationship with you. Explain you are doing this because in a healthy family people should be able to trust each other to tell the truth. If lying continues, escalates, or is masking a different problem seek out the advice of a knowledgeable therapist or pediatrician.

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