Children first learn about honesty and lying at home, primarily from their parents and other important adults in their lives, though peers gain influence as children enter school. Parents help children learn the difference between reality and fantasy, and the importance of telling the truth. Although parents who stress the importance of truthfulness and consistently apply consequences for lying might expect their teens to refrain from lying, it is not unusual for teens to tell an occasional untruth. Teens often need reinforcement of lessons about honesty and trust. Teens who are consistently dishonest may need additional help understanding the importance of honesty.
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Teens and Lying
As teens strive for more independence and separation from their parents, they often become evasive. This secretive behavior can alarm parents who rely on the truth to protect their children, so it can be helpful to understand common reasons that teens lie. Teens may tell outright lies or they may shade the truth, embellishing a story or leaving out some troublesome information. A teen might lie to get out of work or avoid taking responsibility for her actions. Teens lie to protect secrets or to avoid hurting another person’s feelings. Some lie to protect their privacy while others fabricate stories to get more attention. Teens may lie out of fear and shame or to cover up criminal activities, substance abuse or other dangerous activities.
Getting your teen to start being honest with you is a process that begins with communication between parent and child that builds a relationship of safety and trust, according to Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, writing for Psychology Today online. Bernstein recommends that parents begin by not taking the dishonesty personally. Overreaction and judgmental statements increase the distance between you and your teen and make the problem worse. Respond calmly when your teen tells a lie. Avoid name-calling, anger and judgmental statements. Model honesty for your teen in all situations. As you work through the process to change his behavior, you want to increase the chances that he will come to you with the truth.
Find out why your teen is lying and talk with her about why dishonesty feels like a better choice. Is the motivation fear, the need to fit in with peers or a response to stress? Explain how telling the truth can seem scary in the moment, but it is always the right choice in the long run. Help her to examine what she is feeling when she makes the decision to tell a lie. When your teen embellishes, calmly ask why she added information to the story that seems untrue. Encourage her to see her value and help her improve her ability to handle stressful situations without lying. Point out how honesty and handling problems calmly helps her to be successful in life.
Discuss the consequences of dishonesty. Telling a lie might provide some temporary relief, but it causes stress for your teen and his relationships with others. Eventually, the truth will come out and people will view him as untrustworthy. Lying hurts his loved ones and friends, and it can hurt him, as well, as his self-esteem suffers and his guilt increases. Communicate to him how you feel about the habit and the damage it does to your relationship. Establish rules about lying, such as there are no little lies and there will be consequences. Discuss all instances of lying, including the motivation and consequences. Psychology Today online recommends giving your teen the gift of a fresh start complete with renewed trust. Advise him to work hard at protecting that trust and avoid taking the easy way out.
When to Ask for Help
Lying can be a bad habit a teen needs to break or it can indicate serious emotional problems if your child does not seem to know the difference between fact and fiction. You might need professional help if your child has habitually lied throughout childhood or if, as a teen, he continues to lie regularly despite your efforts. Mental health professionals or your family doctor can help arrange an evaluation and other tests to uncover the reason for the lying and make recommendations for treatment.