It’s almost certain that your teen has lied or will lie to you about something at some point during their teenage years. A prerequisite for learning anything of value from this article is first admitting that to yourself. It is not without irony that the first point we offer about teens lying is that you should not lie to yourself about it because TEENS DO LIE.
Parents usually remain calm during the years when lies take the form of fantastical stories and denials of cookie jar raids. However, when an older child is lying, most parents’ alarm bells begin clanging, despite lying being part and parcel of child development.
Like adults, teens aspire to be better than they are, something that provides them with ample reasons to hide the truth.
Lies are statements intended to create a false belief or impression. They are attempts to get someone to believe something that is not true and are typically motivated by a desire to get others to do something or make a decision in favor of the one lying. One lies because he subconsciously knows that the act is unacceptable.
Lying in adolescence is different than lying during younger years. Toddlers and pre-teenagers lying is considered a positive milestone because it shows that a) your child is aware of what is happening in someone else’s mind and, b) they have the cognitive capacity to inhibit themselves from stating the truth. However, adolescent lying is not at all a positive milestone. It may be an indicator that they’re meeting other developmental milestones, such as emotional or psychological differentiation from parents, independence, and loyalty to friends, individualization, but in spite of this, it is considered to be something negative. It is something parents need to address, resolve and move past in order to help their teens to grow into responsible and accountable adults.
Ways to Lie
Lying By Avoidance: This strategy involves steering all those topics that a teen does not want to be asked about away from a conversation. With this strategy, teens specifically move the conversation away from touchy areas to distract parents from asking questions they don’t want to answer.
Lying By Omission: This is the most common and effective strategy used by teens, which involves sharing of some information and leaving out the key details that parents would want to know.
Why Do Teens Lie?
During adolescence, teenagers are looking to differentiate themselves from their parents so as to find out who they are by themselves. They are flooded with irrational impulses and emotions they don’t understand, forcing them to use lies as a defence mechanism.
Parents should be curious instead of furious. Yes, lying can feel like an attack on your parenting, but you should remember that your teen is a human and sometimes humans make mistakes in their lives in an attempt to move forward.
Teenagers might lie about various things like their activities, feelings, friends, academics, peer pressure and substance abuse. This is not to say that every teen is lying about such things but it is highly likely that they can be.
Common Reasons Why Adolescents Lie:
- To Avoid Trouble: This is the number one reason that teens lie; to avoid consequences of breaking rules since they know that what they have done is unacceptable.
- To Protect Their Privacy and Establish Autonomy: When teens enter and endure puberty, they begin to drift away from their parents psychologically. For example, if you ask your teen about his activities of the previous night, he might lie even if nothing he did was harmful simply because he thinks you need not know every tiny detail of his life. Developing autonomy is a good thing but lying to reinforce it is not a productive approach.
- Identity Crisis: As Erikson has explained the stages of psychological development, teenage years are bogged with feelings of role confusion and identity. During these years, teenagers may lie to get a feeling of superiority and pride that adds to his individuality. At this critical age, teenagers tend to analyze and explore different ways of looking at themselves, tendencies that can lead to lies.
- Curiosity: Humans are naturally curious beings. Our lives, economies and societies are all shaped by a drive to obtain information. Similarly when parents tell their teenagers not to do something, it makes them want to do it more, something that can lead to them fibbing.
- HIDE EMOTIONS: A teen may not be forthcoming about how they feel. They may be uncomfortable with their emotions- embarrassed by them or afraid that feeling a certain way may make them seem immature or uncool.
- Peer Pressure: Trying to find where exactly they fit in society. Teenagers can indulge in many acts under the influence of their peers so as to avoid feeling left out and alone.
- Web of Lies: It is said that one lie leads to a hundred more. If a teenager lies for any one of the mentioned reasons, they end up fabricating more lies to hide the first like, creating a web of lies in which they can get stuck.
How to Handle Lies
Stay Calm: Don’t get furious; raising your voice, lecturing the child and panicking is not going to help anyone. You must have a reasonable discussion. Make your teen believe that you will try to understand them and not just scold them, that will only convince the child that they should lie more. Try to create mutual trust between the two of you.
Re-Emphasize Honesty: This is probably not the first time that you’ve told your child not to lie. However, that does not mean you should just give up. Explain the importance of honesty. Bond with the child and try to see their side of the situation too.
Be Honest Yourself: Observational learning is the most effective form of learning. Therefore if you as a parent have set a precedent of lying, however white your lies may be, the probability of your child lying increases tremendously. Next time you’re on the phone about to tell the other person that you’re busy and can’t help and your child is on the couch next to you, clearly seeing that you aren’t busy, do the right thing and be honest. Your kid will put in effort to do the same when he sees your example.
Nothing Changes Overnight: You must understand that even though you now know about your child’s falsehoods, it doesn’t mean that they will change instantly. This process will take time just like the process of your child becoming comfortable hiding the truth. Establish appropriate punishments for lying like reducing screen time, moving up curfew. Whatever you choose to do, give your child time to adjust.
Your teen might be going through some serious emotional problems that are making them turn to compulsive lying. As a parent, you should begin to worry when it seems that your child is:
- Lying chronically
- Lying without any guilt
- Lying about sous and illegal issues