What to Do When Your Teen Lies to You

What to do when teen lies to you 1

Lying is particularly hard on parents, because it feels like a betrayal. Moreover, it can be really confusing! If your teen lies regularly, you may stop believing even the most believable statements your teenager makes. That’s understandable.

Recently we were asked the following question by a parent:

We are having a terrible time with our 14-year-old lying. Any advice or articles?

How common is teen lying?

It might be useful to understand exactly how prevalent lying is among teenagers. In fact, 98% of teens lied to their parents in one study.

That doesn’t make it right, nor does it make the struggle to teach the value of integrity easier to your kids. But, you should know, you are not alone. Nearly every parent will face this struggle.

And moms? It turns out you may not know if your child is lying. This shouldn’t make you more suspicious. In fact, the research shows the reason why you’re likely to get it wrong often is because… moms are usually too suspicious. We think our kids are lying more often than they are.

Unfortunately, the same research doesn’t exist on dads. But maybe there’s reason for all parents to be cautious here: Most teens lie, and most moms (and maybe dads too) think their teens lie more than they actually do.

Why do teens lie?

Teens lie for a thousand reasons. It’s an age where friends and social connections matter more than ever. Thus, they may lie to protect their friends, who’ve made bad choices.

Or to protect themselves. If their not-yet-fully-developed brain leads them into an awkward situation, they may instinctively try to pull out of it with a lie.

Or because it’s easier. Maybe they simply feel too tired to answer your questions and would rather give a quick answer that they think you want.

Maybe because they’re been a break in the connection with you. If a teen no longer feels “safe” with you, maybe they don’t want to tell you about the hard stuff in their lives.

And sometimes to protect you. Sometimes teens lie to try to spare you from feelings of disappointment or fear.

In all of these, even as you disagree with the lie, you will respond better if you remember to empathize. What was it like for you when you were a teenager?

5 Tips to Respond to Teenage Lying

  1. Focus on building connection first. Lying is often a symptom of a deeper problem of disconnection, resentment, and discouragement. Make a point to show your teen how much you enjoy them. Encourage them in the areas they do well, especially where they’ve earned your trust.
  2. Acknowledge the truth-telling that happens right along with the lying. Ask your child how each feels to them. Tell them how each feels to you.
  3. Confess to your child your own lying history as a way, not of lecturing, but of empathizing.
  4. Ask your teen questions to help him figure out what’s good about lying, what’s not, and how it fits with the kind of person he wants to be.
  5. Follow these principles with grace. Parents can follow all the right steps, but with an attitude of resentment, condescension, or fear, the problem will likely intensify. Only grace will get you through this in a way that your teen feels seen and can begin to value a new way of living.

Walk the long journey with your teen

This is no quick and easy fix. There are patterns in place for both you and your child that are hard to break and that fuel lying and other forms of rebellion. This is why staying well connected to your teen, working to enjoy them, is so important.

For us the bottom line is this: When you focus on getting kids to stop lying, the problem usually gets worse. Power struggles and rebellion are fueled.

When you focus on building connection and wisdom, filled with a heart of grace, a child is more likely to feel remorse and to repent.

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