Lying is particularly hard on parents, because it feels like a betrayal. Moreover, it can be really confusing! If you know a teen who lies regularly, you may not know what to believe anymore, even when they are telling the truth.
“I’m going over to Jason’s house. Don’t worry – his parents will be home.”
“I’ve got all my homework done for the weekend. Can I have the car?”
“It’s just gonna be a small party.”
How common is teen lying?
It might be useful to understand exactly how prevalent lying is among teenagers. In fact, in one study 98% of teens reported they have lied to their parents.
That doesn’t make it right, nor does it make the struggle to teach the value of integrity to your kids easier. 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. Moms tend to think kids are lying more often than they are.
Unfortunately, the same research doesn’t exist on dads. But maybe there’s a reason for all parents to be cautious here: Most teens lie, but 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.
- They may lie to protect their friends who’ve made bad choices.
- They lie to protect themselves. If their not-yet-fully-developed brain leads them into an awkward situation, they may instinctively try to cover it with a lie.
- They lie 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.
- They lie because there’s 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.
- They lie 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?
Listen in as we talk about lying on our podcast episode, “What Do I Do When My Child Lies to Me?”
5 ways to connect with your teen who’s lying:
- Focus on building connection first. Lying is often a symptom of a deeper problem of disconnection, resentment, and discouragement. Helpful responses start with connection and then build the value of honesty. 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.
- Affirm truth-telling when it happens. Even those teens who struggle the most are teens that tell the truth most of the time. So call it out. Ask your child how telling the truth vs. lying feels to them. Tell them how each feels to you.
- Confess to your child about your own journey with lying as a way not of lecturing, but of empathizing. Maybe even tell a story about a time you lied and (before finishing the story) ask your teen how they think it ended for you. This could be a great conversation that shows empathy and builds connection.
- 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.
- 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. When you walk in grace, you can more passionately communicate the beauty of heart-connecting integrity, than you communicate the hurtfulness of lies.
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 and working to enjoy them is so important.
For us the bottom line is this: When you focus on getting kids to stop lying, especially with imposed consequences, the problem usually gets worse. Power struggles and rebellion are fueled.
Victoria Talwar PhD, the lead researcher on a study about lying stated “…punishment does not promote truth-telling, in fact, the threat of punishment can have the reverse effect by reducing the likelihood that children will tell the truth when encouraged to do so.”
But… When you focus on building connection and wisdom, filled with a heart of grace, a child is more likely to understand the value of telling the truth.
Want help implementing these principles with your family? Please contact us about our coaching options!