Have you ever caught your teenager in a lie? Of course you have! All teenagers tell lies at some point. Now before we all panic, this is not the end of the world at all. Sometimes when I hear about lies they tell I don’t even know why they felt they had to lie in certain situations. Remember, teenagers are going through a massive transformation in a fairly short period of time. They are confused, trying to find their identity, experimenting with new things, and trying to be calm, cool and collected through all of this! There are typically 3 things which drive teenagers to tell lies:
1. To keep up appearances in front of their peers: teens want to fit in, to feel like they belong and want to impress others. Because of this, they will often lie about something they have, did or said to try to be the person they think their peers want them to be.
2. To try to avoid facing up to the consequences for something they should not have done: who wants to be yelled at, grounded, or in trouble for anything – especially teens. So they will often tell a lie or lie by omission in order to avoid the consequences of something they did.
3. To be able to do things their parents would otherwise not let them do: teenagers are at a stage where they are experimenting and trying new things (many of which parents would not approve) so they lie about where they are, who they are with and the specifics of what they are doing so that their parents won’t tell them they can’t go out.
So, what should you do if you catch your teenager lying to you. Let’s start with what you should not do and that is, you should not worry that this is something that will define their character for life – it will not. As I said, all teenagers lie at some point and it does not doom them to a life of dishonesty or criminal activity. With that said…lying is still not acceptable and they should be held accountable for their behaviors. Some teens will really try to hold onto a lie if they feel there is even the slightest chance it will help them avoid negative consequences. This can be really frustrating and hurtful for parents. When this happens, sit down and speak with your teenager about your feelings and concerns with their lying (and only do this if you are in a calm state). In all instances where you catch your teenager lying, let them know that you are hurt that they tried to deceive you and that you want to be able to trust them. It often helps if you validate them by saying something like, “I know what it is like to want to do something you can’t do” or “I know that you did not want to get in trouble”. Let them know you understand what the motive for the lie was and then tell them that lying damages trust and relationships. Reinforce with them that you work really hard to be honest with them and that you need the same in return. Try to keep the conversation focused and don’t let it drag on – make your point but don’t lecture on and on because you will likely lose their focus and you increase the chances the discussion will turn into an argument.
Then, discuss with your teenager what the consequence will be. If were really angry or hurt by their lying, take some time to think about an appropriate consequence so that you don’t issue a consequence out of emotion. As in all situations, make the consequence appropriate, time limited and enforceable. If the situation will make it harder for you to trust them, let them know how they can start working to build this trust back with you and be open to their efforts to do this.
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