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Dealing with Your Lying Teenager

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Lying is often a headline story in the news. A politician lies or a government official lies to avoid responsibility for a misdeed. An accused suspect in a criminal case lies to get out of being charged with a crime. But, what if lying occurs at home? And not by a politician or government official, but by your preteen or teenager?

It’s just as common for teens to lie as it is for certain adults. However, the reasons might be slightly different. Your daughter may lie to get away with something you wouldn’t ordinarily allow. For example, your daughter says she’s going to a friend’s house all Saturday afternoon. Having no reason to say no, you agree and tell her what time to come home.

But the unexpected occurs. You need her home earlier, so you call her but she is not answering her cell phone. Next, you call her friend and she says that your daughter has not been there today. When she returns home, you confront her and find out she went to an R-rated movie with a boyfriend and lied about being at her friend’s house.

Another reason teens lie is to avoid responsibility. My own children, for instance, between ages 12 and 14 sometimes said they had cleaned their room when they hadn’t.

Or, teens lie at this stage of development to avoid punishment or consequences. Your son may lie about having done his homework because he knows there will be a consequence for failing to put his school work first.How do you best handle it when you catch your teenager in a lie?

Of course, the answer to this depends on the situation and the circumstances. Some lies are worse than others.

If it’s a minor lie, for instance if he says he says he walked the dog when in fact he completely forgot and played video games without thinking of the needs of the family pet, it’s not in and of itself a big deal. Actually, most realistic parents will come to expect this kind of lie. Yet, you still have to deal with it.

Perhaps the best way to deal with a minor lie is to explain that it’s important in your family for people to be able to trust and depend on one another. Therefore, his telling lies gets in the way of your trust. Then, discuss how you will expect him to tell the truth next time and let him know the consequences for failing to keep a promise and for lying about it.

However, if the lie is a more serious one, the stakes are higher, and a less matter-of-fact approach will be called for.

Suppose, for example, that your daughter said she was at school, but had really cut classes. Or that she had said she was staying after school to complete a science project, when in fact she had a detention for an infraction of a school rule. These are more serious lies.

To handle these kinds of lies, it is best to say in a straightforward way that you know she lied. Never try to trap your teen into admitting they lied. Attempting to trap them into a confession often leads to a problem that escalates into much more than simply trying to deal with an untruth.

Second, you have to emphasize that you are upset – maybe even angry, but certainly disappointed – not so much at her as at her behavior. Then, explain why you are so upset. The reason for being upset over a major lie is her attempt to deceive you, to hide an important aspect of her life, and that it has led to you having suffered a loss of trust in her word.

Since an important lie results in a loss of trust, the two of you need to discuss how she is going to regain that trust. In addition, there could be a consequence, such as a loss of privileges or a restriction on her activities. However, if you have a close and generally respectful relationship with your teen, letting them know that you are disappointed and have lost faith in their word is often as corrective as any consequence you could impose.