Skip to main content

6 simple ways to get lying teenagers to be more truthful

One common question among parents is “Why do teenagers lie?” One day, your child who’s been consistently honest for the most part comes out with a whopper out of nowhere. Still, you don’t have to start panicking about whether or not this behavior will turn into a habit. Lying is one more way for teens to test the waters of adolescence to see how far they can bend the rules. Your teen is simply trying to maintain her independence. What is a parent of a teen to do? Learn from the experts about why teens lie and what you can do to curtail the dishonesty.

Mom sitting at table talking to daughter
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why do teenagers lie?

Lying appears to be a behavior that’s embedded in the adolescent phase, but the degree of lying and concealing the truth, along with the reasons, vary widely among young people. Some of these reasons include:

  • Avoiding a possible consequence
  • Bending rules that they believe are unfair
  • Trying to affirm their own autonomy and independence

Subsequently, these behaviors also correlate with age, according to a study conducted by doctors Robinson, Bourne, and Wainryb and published in the Developmental Psychology by the American Psychology Association. The participants, who were between the ages of 12 and 17, gave anecdotal accounts of when they’ve lied, hid the truth from, or revealed it to their parents, and their stories reflected a pattern of older teens giving more detailed accounts of their acts of dishonesty; whereas the younger members of the group were less inclined to tell the whole story. Furthermore, most of their content dealt with everyday routines as opposed to more major issues like academic performance, dating, or risky behavior.

This trend of less frequent lying (or rather less acceptance and justification for lying) increased as the teens got closer to the age of adulthood as noted by doctors Jensen and Jensen in their study titled, The Right to Do Wrong: Lying to Parents among Adolescents and Emerging Adults.

So, the good news is you can expect this type of behavior to decrease as your child gets older and becomes more open to seeking your guidance when navigating through challenging situations.

Father and son standing by fence talking
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to deal with lying

With every situation differing from one family to the next, there aren’t any hard and fast answers when dealing with a teen who’s lying. However, parents have one common first step, which is to stay calm. Plus, here are four strategies that you can try when you know that your teen is lying.

Keep from taking it personally

Difficult as it is to believe, your teen is focusing more on what he wants (or doesn’t want) and how that goal can be achieved. The lying is not a personal attack on you.

Emphasize the link between honesty and building trust

Just as you might have to discipline your teen, you can use this opportunity for a teachable moment to draw more attention to how trust is built and maintained between two people.

Resist the temptation to “catch” them in a lie

To a certain extent, going along with your child’s story before revealing that you already know the truth brings more dishonesty into the situation and runs the risk of looking hypocritical.

Remind your teen about the consequences

Finally, you’ll have to inform your teen that she receives twice the consequences: first from the transgression and second from the lying. Again, this goes along with that teachable moment.

You, as the parent, need to set the example for open, honest communication. Likewise, you can ask your teen how he would feel if someone lied to him. And even if you follow up with consequences like taking the keys to the car, placing a stricter limit on screentime, or changing the curfew, you’ll still need to remain patient because this phase is a process. It will take time for your teen to reflect on and understand the repercussions of being dishonest.

How to encourage honesty

Aside from the “punitive” approach, you can show your teen the value of honesty. As noted by Dr. Nancy Darling, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Oberlin College and the founder of, trust is vital to a solid parent-child relationship. In fact, knowing that their parents trust them motivates teens to become more trustworthy. Two ways to promote this mindset include the following:

Lay the groundwork for open communication

Fostering an atmosphere of open communication where both teens and parents “agree to disagree” can establish a pathway for building trust and encouraging children to be honest. When they know that they can express their views, they’re less likely to lie, according to Dr. Darling.

Promote mutual respect

Of course, open communication still involves teaching respect for the other person even when he or she doesn’t agree with your viewpoints. Moreover, part of that respect encompasses communicating with some self-restraint and the use of a social filter in order to show consideration for the people in the conversation. When this type of foundation is set, your teen most likely will gravitate toward the side of truth instead of resorting to deception.

Basically, it’s a matter of balancing out the need to uphold the rules while allowing your teen the space to explore her identity, values, and autonomy. Regardless of the content of the half-truths, you’ll start to notice your teen making the connection between independence and trustworthiness. And over time, he will value telling the truth and keeping the lines of communication open.

Editors' Recommendations

Leslie Anderson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Leslie Anderson is a freelance writer/writing coach from Roswell, N.M. She enjoys gardening, cooking, and helping students…
Teething baby not eating? 7 simple solutions every concerned parent should try
Help your baby stay fed with these tips
Baby eating pumpkin

No one is really sure if teething is more painful for babies or their parents. Although teething means your little one will be ready to try more textures and different foods, so mealtime becomes more fun, it also means a painful experience for your baby, resulting in a lot of screaming and crying all while those teeth are coming in. And, while you baby will eventually be able to try lots of new foods with their new teeth, your teething baby not eating is a temporary reality because their mouth is just too sore.

It's upsetting to see babies uncomfortable and in pain when cutting new teeth. The good news is that there are ways to help your baby through the teething process while encouraging your teething baby to eat. Once you establish that teething is the cause of a baby's refusal to eat, either by a pediatric visit or feeling that shark tooth jutting out, there are some tried-and-trusted strategies to help keep them nourished. What should you do when your teething baby isn't eating as much as they normally do? Here are some ways to help.

Read more
Is it OK to lie to your children about Santa Claus? Here’s what experts say
Should you tell your children the truth about old St. Nick?
A surprised Santa against a red wall.

For many parents, part of the magic of Christmas is telling their children the many stories of Santa Claus. The tale of Jolly Old St. Nick is a time-honored tradition that has been around for generations. However, not everyone loves the idea of sharing the story of Santa Claus, only to eventually admit it was a lie told for years "in good fun," which makes them question the need for disappointment and possible hurt feelings down the line.

If you're a new parent or one with young children in the home, you may be debating whether you or your family will be taking part in the idea of Santa Claus, or simply questioning how you feel lying to your kids about Santa Claus.

Read more
How many presents should your child get for Christmas? Here are some insights
Less is more when it comes to holiday gift giving
Family decorating tree

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and nothing brings more joy on Christmas morning than watching your children excitedly run towards the tree to see what Santa brought for them. (A quick cup of strong coffee also helps.) A child's wish list can seem endless and although no parent wants to disappoint their child, they often find themselves asking how many presents should a child get for Christmas.

Before arriving at that point, you’ve been planning and shopping for the gifts on your child’s list for Santa. If you have ever wondered just how many presents an average child gets at Christmas, we have a few insights to share with you about gifting your little ones.

Read more