In this lesson you are going to learn why your teenager is lying and what you can do about it.
In it you will discover:
- The root cause of why do teenagers lie
- How to create a healthy relationship so they won’t lie
- The importance of facing your fears as a parent
- What to do if you catch them lying
- A sample talk you can have with your teenager
be honest with yourself about the type of lying you do. Unless you are the magic 1 – 3% of people who never lie (good for you if that’s true!), then chances are, at the very least, you tell small white lies here or there. If you do lie or have lied, why did you? What were you afraid of that you couldn’t be honest with the other person?
Now ask yourself this: What do you want to teach your child about the importance of being honest? What kind of values do you want them to have? Do you want to have the type of relationship with them where they can tell you anything? Are you prepared not to parent them with fear? How can you keep them from resorting to lying?
Why do teenagers lie?
Nothing upsets a parent more then when their child lies to them. It damages the trust and it’s always in the back of their mind, “Is he or she lying to me?” This is the real reason parents can’t stand lying. They have to become detectives and decipher their child’s code, which gives parents more work to do. How can you lower the probability of having your child lie to you?
All kids lie because they fear retribution. In other words, they’re afraid to tell the truth because they think something bad will happen to them if they do. In the US we have a famous story about our first president George Washington who chopped down the cherry tree and when asked about it, told his father the truth. He’s always been held up as a role model because he had the character to tell the truth and face his fears. Unless you’ve taught your child to face their fears with integrity, then they’re going to lie. Here are the three main reasons kids lie:
- They did something wrong.
- They want to do something they know you don’t want them to do.
- They want to create a distorted reality for themselves of who they are.
1. They Did Something Wrong
This is the most common reason teenagers lie. Of course they don’t want to get punished or lose privileges. If your child has done something “wrong”, it’s an opportunity for you to allow them to fall down and then spend the time to explore their choices and actions. If you just punish them and don’t use it as an opportunity to correct the behavior, then they will fear making mistakes in life and will always try to “cover their tracks”. Your child needs to feel that they’re not going to be put down every time they make a mistake. As outlined earlier, mistakes are inevitable for teenagers so they need to know that you have created a space for them where it’s ok. You then need to take the time to explore the situation so that they can improve upon it the next time.
Here is a sample talk you can have with them:
“I want to talk to you about why you lied to me. You did something wrong and even though I don’t like it, I want you to know that no matter what I still love you and that you do not need to lie to me. I don’t expect you to be perfect so it is ok if you make mistakes. You have to get used to the fact that just because I don’t want to see you making mistakes does not mean I don’t think you will. I want to have the type of relationship with you where it’s ok if you make mistakes because then we can take the time to learn from them together. So please come to me and be honest. I promise I won’t freak out. At the same time, you need to understand that you may need to suffer the consequences of your choices and actions.”
As a Neutral Parent, you need to hold up your end of the agreement and not freak out! You need to learn how to hold your ground, set boundaries, let them suffer the consequences and not overreact.
2. They Want To Do Something They Know You Don’t Want Them To Do
All teenagers will want to start doing things that you may not want them to. As long as it’s not illegal, you need to lay the foundation for your teenager that their behaviors in acting responsibly will determine their freedoms. However, you need to start letting go of being in control. Most parents seek control of their teenager (and kids feel this) so they feel they need to lie to you to get what they want. You may need to take an honest and open look at the fact that you’re too strict. Or, if they’re not acting responsibly, you need to look at the fact that you’re not helping to teach them to be more responsible. A teenager’s freedom and ability to push their boundaries is completely related to their ability to exude responsible behaviors. You need to set a strong foundation in the relationship so that as they become more responsible, they earn more freedoms (even the stuff that scares you). Once you create a healthy foundation with them, they won’t feel the need to lie to you when they want to do something.
I cannot emphasize enough that you need to start letting go of parenting them with fear. When kids feel you keeping them on a “fear leash”, they will lie to you and it will create conflict and distance in your relationship with them (rebellion).
Here is a sample talk you can have with them:
“I know there are things you may want to do that I may not approve of. What you need to understand is that the best way for you to gain more freedom and trust from me is by behaving more responsibly. When I see you act like an adult by picking up after yourself, doing your homework, communicating effectively, and following through with your responsibilities, you can gain more freedom and trust from me. This does not mean I’m going to let you do anything. But it does mean I will trust you more and you will earn your right to do more of the things you want to do. Please do not lie to me about these things otherwise I will trust you less and then it makes it much harder for me to let you do these types of things.”
It’s very important that you make it clear that if they want to do things an adult can do, that they need to behave like an adult. In these instances, I recommend that you sit down with them and create a list of things they want to do that you’re not sure about or feel comfortable with. Then create a system in which they can earn their right to do these things. Make it visual for them so they can see that:
“If you want to do X, then I want to see you behave in this way or accomplish these types of tasks. Your mature behaviors will decide on whether you can do these things”
Facing Your Fears
One of the main reasons parents have a hard time with allowing their kids to do things is because they are afraid of what can happen. Now, I am not saying that you should just allow your teen to do whatever they want. This is a tricky subject because there are so many variables and types of circumstances (i.e. what your kid wants to do). That being said, it is important that you as a parent be honest with yourself by asking this question: “What is the worst that can happen?” Most parents conjure up false realities in their mind because they are being driven by fear. When this happens, the parent behaves irrationally towards their teen and this is where a lot of conflict can start.
Because many parents came from strict upbringings, they think it is “normal” for them to be overbearing or controlling. This is a good opportunity for you to end this cycle of parenting and be fair with your teenager. Rather then using your upbringing or fear as a barometer, use your child’s behaviors as a way to determine if something is ok for them to do. Unless what they want to do is truly dangerous, you might need to loosen up your grip and be open to them doing some of these things so long as their responsible behaviors reflect their maturity and ability to do so. If they do not, then rather then just telling them “No”, you need to talk to them about how they can do them (once their behaviors mature).
3. They Want To Create A Distorted Reality For Themselves Of Who They Are
Sadly, many adults still do this type of lying and it starts at an early age. Whether teenagers are not secure with themselves, excited about life, or seeking attention, this type of lying is running rampant on our planet. It stems from self-worth and feeling good about themselves. If you find that your child is lying about weird or silly things that don’t even make sense (“Why are they lying about this?”), it’s because they’re trying to create a distorted reality because they don’t like the one they’re in.
If this is the case, you need to help them feel better about who they are. The best way to do this is to make sure they are doing things in life they REALLY enjoy. If your child is doing what they love in life, then they will feel good not only about themselves, but about life as well. This is all about positive reinforcement and showing your child that they can get the love and attention they seek from something positive. In many ways, this type of lying is the early stage of a “cry for help”.
Here is a sample talk you can have with them:
“I’ve noticed that you’ve been lying about small things about yourself and I wanted to let you know that you don’t need to do that. You’re such an amazing person and you don’t need to make things up to feel more important or special. I promise that you have a very special and unique gift to share with the world and that once you discover it you won’t need to tell lies to make yourself or your life more interesting. What I want you to do is write down the three most exciting things you love about life and then we will take some time to explore them together.”
Keep in mind when you talk with them they’re going to feel very vulnerable since they’ve been caught and are now “seen”. They may shut down and it might look like they’re not paying attention. They hear you! Your main focus needs to be on helping them explore themselves so they can find something they’re really interested in and dive into it. Once they do this, they will have something real to talk about instead of feeling like they need to make something up. This will require a great deal of work on your part.
Whether it’s as simple as they lost something, going out with a friend, staying out later, ditched school, or other poor behaviors you disapprove of, your teenager will only lie to you because:
- They fear retribution.
- They want to test their boundaries with you.
If you want to minimize the chances of your child lying to you, you need to come up with a more constructive way of handling these situations with them. The only way you can do that is by understanding why they’ve done it and why they feel they need to keep it from you in the first place (they want to do something they know you disapprove of). Once you can isolate each situation and work it all the way through to find a balanced solution, then you can begin to resolve these challenges in a way that is more healthy.
“Will my kids never lie to me?”
Now, this doesn’t mean that even if you are the perfect therapist/coach/parent/guide that they will never lie to you. We all have our ego, which kicks in our defense mechanisms and puts us in reactive mode when something bad is going to happen. If you take the time to resolve what your teen is going through and do this without the use of retribution, it makes it less probable that they will lie to you down the road. Another way to look at is like this:
If you become a great parent does it mean you will never react to your teenager by yelling or barking orders? Of course not! You’re human too and depending on the situation and timing (at home when things are calm or at work with a million things on your plate?), the way you respond or react to your child will vary.
The same goes for them. Sometimes they wont lie and other times they will regardless of how much great parenting you have done. Why? They have egos and fear/survival mechanisms too. People lie all the time and it stems from fear of some form of retribution. These fears are part of our survival mechanism and because your teenager is just starting to learn about their ego and fear, they will likely lie at some point.
Parents Don’t Have Time
The real challenge here is the fact that parents don’t have the time that it takes to truly resolve challenges their kids are facing. Good parenting is about taking the time when each situation arises and working through it so that you work toward building a strong foundation for that type of situation. Grounding kids or taking away privileges is the quick and easy way out for parents to solve problems. Here is a perfect example of how the lying starts….
Step 1 – The teenager does something wrong or wants to do something the parent does not want to allow.
Step 2 – The parent reacts and freaks out or doesn’t allow them what they want.
Step 3 – The parent tries to resolve it to a certain extent but because they’re so stressed out and have little time for this they either:
- Punish their child.
- Take away some privileges.
- Respond with a command of sorts that does not allow the child to be included in the decision making process.
Parents generally use one of these three solutions as the easy way out of “truly” resolving the issue at hand.
Step 4 – The next time something happens where the teenager feels like there is going to be some sort of retribution, they lie to cover it up so that they don’t have to suffer the retribution (or think that they do).
Then you click the “replay” button on this analogy and it just goes on autopilot until the situation hits rock bottom.
Building A Strong Foundation
Whatever “mistake” your child makes is not because they’re dumb, lazy, or weird. It’s because being responsible is a new experience for them. It’s during the teenage years that they are beginning to form their ability to be more responsible. This means that you need to make the time in some way shape or form to help them establish a pattern of becoming more responsible. Once you put the time in with them and they learn what they need to learn, it becomes an established pattern and you will see that they’ll do things better.
How long can that take?
Years, depending on how good you are at guiding and teaching them.
If you do not have the time or lack the skills to teach your child these skills, get some in person help. Otherwise you will be on a merry-go-round ride that never ends and keeps getting worse.
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