If you are the parent of a teen, you have likely had at least a few experiences where your child has lied to you at some point. All humans lie at times, and teenagers are prone to lying for various reasons. The good news is that telling untruths does not make someone a bad person or doomed to a life of crime. In fact, a lying teen can be developmentally appropriate during their adolescence even when it is frustrating and, in some cases, unsafe. If you have caught your teen in a lie, here are some ways to deal with the situation.
Take a Deep Breath
First, stay calm. Teenagers lie for a wide range of reasons, and many of them are fairly innocuous. For example, sometimes teens lie simply because they find it easier to give a short answer rather than a long one and they might think the question you’re asking is unimportant. Or they might decide that it’s easier to lie about doing some mundane (to them) chore than to do it. It is annoying and frustrating, but not harmful. Other times, teens tell white lies such as, “my phone battery is about to die so I’ll talk to you later,” rather than, “I’m having fun with my friends and I don’t want to talk to you right now.” Think about what your teen has lied about. Is it something that doesn’t matter in the long run, such as whether they have made their bed? While you should address the lying, this isn’t worth losing your cool over.
If your teen has lied about something harmful or dangerous, it also pays to stay calm. Maybe your teen said that he or she was at the movies with a friend when they were really at a party where alcohol was served. This is absolutely something to get to the bottom of and will warrant a consequence, but if you approach your teen when you are still actively angry, the conversation will go south. As long as he or she is not in immediate danger, take some deep breaths and wait until you have calmed down before approaching your teen.
Talk to Your Teen About the Natural Consequences of Lying
While your teen is likely trying to avoid getting into an argument or attempting to get away with going somewhere you wouldn’t approve of, he or she might not have considered the natural consequences of lying. When you catch him or her in a lie, a calm discussion should be had about the things that happen when a lie is told.
- First, a web of lies tends to grow after the first lie. You might be able to point out exactly how this has unfolded based on your teen’s lie. It will not apply if your teen has lied about brushing his or her teeth, but it will if your teen has lied about going to a party. The first lie might have been, “I’m going to see the new Spiderman movie with Jamie,” when your teen is actually planning on attending a party.
- Next, the lie might need to be that Jamie’s parents are driving, since your child can’t ask you to be the driver. If the party runs longer than a movie would, the next lie might be that they went to a fast food restaurant afterward.
- Then, they might need to lie about how the movie was. If they are actually invited to see the new Spiderman movie a few days later, they might need to lie about where they are going so you won’t question why they are going to see the movie twice in a week’s time. And on and on it goes.
Lying creates bad feelings in the teen. He or she might feel guilty about the lie. They also might feel fearful that you are going to find out about the lie. These are not feelings that your teen needs to have; they are self-imposed based on poor behavior, and your teen knows it.
Lying also breaks trust. You might not have had any problem allowing your teen to go out on the weekends, but now you will. You might not even feel comfortable leaving your teen home alone now that your trust has been broken.
Finally, lying can put your teen in real danger. Maybe he or she said that a parent was driving a group of teenagers to a late-night event in a nearby large city, when actually a friend who has just gotten his or her license a week ago will be driving. The inexperienced teen is going to be navigating the highway and unfamiliar city streets late at night, and it is not likely to be a safe situation. While your teenager might think it will be fine, your adult perspective (as well as the reality of the situation) might be different.
Decide on Logical Consequences That Allow Your Teen to Rebuild Trust
When your teen does something wrong, it is important to have logical consequences in place. Knowing ahead of time what might constitute a reasonable consequence can help you avoid flying off the handle and grounding your teen for a year or imposing some other unreasonable punishment.
It can be helpful to create two separate consequences: one for whatever your teen lied about and one for the lying itself. This, of course, only applies if whatever your teen lied about warrants a consequence. Lying about whether they’ve put their shoes away when they left them at the front door won’t really have a consequence for leaving the shoes (other than putting them away), but lying about it might require them to take on an extra chore.
Come up with a consequence for lying that will help your teen rebuild trust if they lied about something big. For example, the consequence for telling a fib about who is driving to an event might be that you will call the parent who is supposed to be driving to confirm the plans each time, graduating to you confirming plans only every once in a while. Once it is apparent that your teen has begun telling the truth again, you can offer more freedom.
In the end, teaching your teen not to lie is more about encouraging them to be a responsible and honest citizen and less about punishments. Keep the lines of communication open and be sure to set a good example by being honest with your teen.