How to Tell if your Teen is Lying
Lying is not uncommon in children. At some point, the majority of older children lie to their parents to:
- avoid punishment,
- seek attention,
- avoid a responsibility, or
- protect their privacy.
Whatever the teenager’s reason, parents need to treat lying seriously. Teens may think lying is no big deal, so it’s our responsibility to teach teens that lying is a serious issue and will not be tolerated. It is easy to send mixed messages to our teens about lying, so be careful that you are role modeling honesty and don’t overlook some of your teen’s lies as “small” or “white lies” because overlooking one lie only encourages teens to tell another.
So, knowing it’s likely that your teen will lie to you at some point, how will you know when they do? Today’s blog offers a few signs that could indicate your teen is lying:
People who are lying do not want you to check up on their story. If a teen is telling you the truth, they will be more willing to offer you names and phone numbers so that you can validate their story. They will likely feel insulted, but they will be cooperative. If a teen is lying to you, they will pitch a fit if asked to help you check out their story. They will act defensive, refuse to provide contact information, and try to manipulate you by saying things like “if you trusted me, you wouldn’t have to call so-and-so.”
A lag time between your question and your teen’s response is a sign they may be trying to come up with the “right” answer, or a manipulated one, instead of speaking the truth. For example, if you ask for details about what your teen is doing (or is going to do), and there is a pause, it could be a sign that they are making something up. They might also act like they didn’t hear you, asking you to repeat your question, in an effort to buy themselves time to think.
When answering a question or telling you a story, notice your teen’s eye movement. If your teen avoids looking at you when talking or looks at you too long without blinking, this can be an indication that they are lying. Additionally, experts say that when someone is using their creativity to “make up” what happened, they tend to look down. When they are remembering something that happened, most people tend to look up.
The phrase, “the devil is in the details,” couldn’t be more true when it comes to how teens lie. Teens who are lying tend to either avoid details or have too many well-rehearsed details. An obvious indicator of lying is when the details change in the second telling of a story. You might allow your teen to tell you their story without asking a lot of questions and then, a few hours later, ask them for specific details to see if their story holds together.
Changing the Topic
If your teen answers your questions with off-topic responses or evades your questions in other ways, it is possible they are hiding something.
Change in Speech Patterns
If you talk to your teen regularly, you will learn to recognize their regular behavior when they are communicating. When you ask them a question or they are telling you a story, pay attention for differences in their usual speech patterns. For example, they may:
- talk faster than normal
- have a higher pitch in their tone of voice
- keep touching their face and/or mouth while talking
- fidget more than usual
- stutter, when they don’t normally
The list above are possible indicators of lying; however, it’s important to keep in mind that if your teen exhibits some of these behaviors it does not necessarily mean that they are lying. These behaviors are just guidelines to help you determine when it might be a good time to check up on your teen’s story.
As a parent, if your teen has lied to you, then be sure to follow through with consequences. The teen should apologize for their lying and be responsible for making some type of reparation. If they have hurt someone with their lie, then they should do something to repair the harm done. If there was no specific hurt, then the teen can perform a task for that person to “work the offense off.” Once the consequences have been enforced, tell your teen 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.
What do we have to look for to know the therapist is a good one?
Degrees? Certain website? Is there a place that tells us if they are certified?
Excellent question! I encourage you to read this article from WebMD that tackles this exact topic: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/how-to-find-therapist#1 . But the short answer to your question is to seek out recommendations from people you trust, such as family, friends, your child’s pediatrician, your family’s primary provider, or other health professionals you have worked with. Nothing is better than a recommendation, and the health community is very aware of who is doing the best work. You can also check with professional associations, such as the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, to learn about a therapist’s expertise and to confirm they are certified. Finally, recognize that because a therapist is someone your child will be talking to about personal issues, you will need to find the right connection or fit – you may have to try 2-3 therapists to find the one that your child is comfortable with.