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

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

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 1step2life.com, 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.

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