Think back to when you were a teenager and try to remember whether you were always completely truthful with your parents. The answer is probably no. While parents want their teens to tell the truth, the fact is that most teens will stretch the truth occasionally, while others will tell bigger lies at times. In some cases, lying becomes a habit; it can even become a dangerous habit. If you think that your teen is lying to you, it is important to take a deep breath and decide how you will address the issue. Read on for more information about teen lying.
Why Teens Lie
Teens, just like anyone else, lie for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most common is that they have a natural drive to separate themselves from their parents. They might not want you to know every detail of their lives, so they participate in either lies of omission or outright fibs. For example, you might ask your teen if he or she has a crush on anyone and they simply say “no” rather than filling you in on the cute boy or girl in their math class that they are hoping to take to the prom.
Teen lying might happen to avoid getting in trouble or to avoid worrying you. Maybe he or she is late for curfew because they simply didn’t feel like coming home. Rather than say that, they might tell a fib about how the car stalled and their cell phone battery was dead. Or maybe they avoid telling you that the teen who drives them to school every day was in an accident because it might prevent you from worrying about his or her driving skills. Your teen might also lie about the details concerning an upcoming event (such as forgetting to mention that the parents of a friend hosting a party are in Aruba) or about school performance (such as saying they are doing fine in chemistry even though they are failing).
Dangers of Teen Lying
Many times, the lies that teens tell don’t have any serious consequence. For example, not telling you about a romance is usually benign. Omitting the facts about a failed test will probably not impact the outcome as it pertains to how their grade is calculated. Saying that their phone battery was dead when they really just didn’t feel like responding to your text is also not going to have any long-term effect.
Other times, however, the consequences can be dire. If your teen says that he or she is not drinking and then gets behind the wheel of a car, that is an accident waiting to happen. Not mentioning that a party they are going to is going to be unsupervised or neglecting to tell you that a brand new driver is the one who is providing transportation to a concert in a city two hours away could result in serious consequences. Teen lying in situations that are likely to escalate into legal or physical danger is also a potential issue.
Signs That Your Teen Might Be Lying
While you should not assume your teen is lying without any indication that it’s happening, there are some signs that could be a clue that he or she is being less than truthful. They include:
- Body language. Your teen might avoid eye contact, touch his or her face frequently, or quickly leave the room.
- Voice changes. People who are lying might suddenly begin speaking more quickly or in a higher tone of voice.
- Being unable to provide details. Rather than spin an intricate web of deceit complete with small details, a lying teen will often choose to say as little as possible.
- Too many details that don’t add up. Some teens will choose the spin-a-good-story approach and offer up details that don’t quite line up with reality.
- Odd speech patterns. Often, when someone is lying they will repeat questions or answer in non-complete sentences when full sentences would be more appropriate.
While these signs might indicate that someone is telling a lie, they can also be a normal pattern for teens, who often do struggle with awkward phrasing and the desire to not go into detail about what is going on, so they are not sure-fire methods of determining that your teen is telling tales.
How to Handle Lying in Teens
There are two main issues to address when it comes to teen lying. The first is the lack of trust, and the second is the potential danger that your teen might be getting involved with. The second issue will not apply to all cases, of course.
Try having a heart-to-heart talk with your teen. Let him or her know that you do not want to be lied to and that teen lying will bring about a stronger or harsher consequence than being honest about whatever it is he or she is lying about. Discuss how trust is built and how it is torn down when someone is not honest. In many cases, a teen will take this type of discussion to heart and will open up about what has been going on.
Depending on the issue being lied about, you can choose to simply step back and let natural consequences take place. For example, if your teen is lying about having done his or her laundry as asked, he or she will eventually run out of clean clothes to wear. At that point, it becomes your teen’s problem to solve; be sure that you don’t bail out your adolescent by doing it for them. These small matters are often best not pointed out; allow your teen to make these types of mistakes and learn from them.
If you suspect that your teen is in danger or is lying to hide a mental health issue, an addiction, or some type of dangerous or illegal activity, counseling is in order. It could be that your teen has gotten in over his or her head and needs professional help to come to terms with whatever the issue. Family therapy may be needed to help open up and improve communication. Talk to your teen’s doctor to learn how to proceed when it comes to getting counseling for your child.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.