All teenagers tell half-truths or white lies from time to time. Whether to avoid hurting someone else or to prevent the consequences of inappropriate behavior, occasional lying isn't generally a serious cause for concern. Habitual lying is another matter. It involves repeated instances of lying over both trivial and serious issues, and can be a very frustrating, troublesome problem for parents.
Occasional vs. Habitual Lying
Teens lie for a number of reasons. Teens often lie to get attention, to maintain privacy, to seem more powerful or to obtain respect from others. During adolescence, teenagers naturally begin to pull away from their parents as a part of the separation-individuation process. A teen who might have once shared everything with you no longer tells you anything about his day, or he refuses to disclose information about where he's going and what he's doing. In most cases, occasional lying about harmless or inane occurrences is a normal part of development. Sometimes, it's simply easier for teens to lie than tell the truth, according to Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor for Empowering Parents, an organization dedicated to providing effective parental advice.
Lying about Risky Behavior
Habitual lying that involves covering up harmful, risky or violent behavior is a cause for more serious concern, especially if it involves the intent to hide an illegal or destructive behavior, such as alcohol or drug use, gang involvement, shoplifting, breaking and entering or stealing from others. If your teen engages in habitual lying covering up risky behavior, you should address it immediately and consult your teen's school psychologist, pediatrician or a qualified mental health professional, states Devine.
Parenting Styles and Habitual Lying
Sometimes, but not always, habitual lying can be the result of certain maladaptive parenting styles. Teens may become habitual liars if they have rigid, authoritarian parents who express disapproval with explosive anger, according to marriage and family therapist Judy R. De Wit in her book, "How You Became You (and Why You Do the Things You Do): How Abusive Parenting Styles Debilitate Children." In such cases, teens may lie as a way of avoiding their parents' harsh criticism or rage. On the other hand, teens with extremely permissive parents may also become habitual liars. Children who grow up in environments in which they are allowed to do practically anything they want may lie simply because they have been given too much freedom, states Dr. Phil McGraw in an article for his website.
What Parents Can Do
Sit down with your teen during a quiet moment and discuss your concerns in an open, direct and nonjudgmental manner. Explain how her behavior hurts you and makes you feel. Let her know that she doesn't have to hide anything from you and that you are here to help. Acknowledge the lie without moralizing. This helps you identify the behavior for what it is and lets your teen know that dishonest behavior is inappropriate. You can't force her to tell the truth, but you can help her listen to her conscience and see the difference between right and wrong. Let her know that her actions will have consequences -- stick with your chosen punishment and don't be tempted to bend the rules, according to McGraw.
- Empowering Parents: “How Dare You Lie to Me!“ How to Deal with a Lying Teen
- How You Became You (and Why You Do the Things You Do): How Abusive Parenting Styles Debilitate Children: Judy R. De Wit
- Psychology Today: Getting Your Lying Teen to Level With You
- DrPhil.com: Parenting: When Your Child Won't Stop Lying
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images