Parents of teenagers often respond to uncovered lies with anger and punishment. But there are better ways to react when your teen has been lying. Here’s how you as parents can understand why teenagers lie and what you should do about it.
Teens lie a lot.
In fact, teenagers lie more than any other group. According to research called From Junior to Senior Pinocchio that examines deception among the age group of 6 to 77, adolescents tell most lies, while children and the elderly lie the least.
In a small study called The Right to Do Wrong, 82% of teens admitted to lying to their parents. This implies that it’s very likely your teen lies to you on at least one important matter.
This is may not be surprising. As parents, you may also have caught your teenagers lie about something at some point in their teen years.
You may have taught your child about honesty since they were 5. You’ve set this as a basis of his moral compass. And when you discover their lies at the age of 15, you may think that your parenting fails.
But what if I tell you that lying is a common milestone in teenage development. This tells us that when your teenager is lying to you, it is not a result of bad parenting. This is nothing to do with you nor it’s your fault.
However, there are several types of lies that you need to know as parents. This can be helpful to understand why your teenagers lie and how you can react appropriately without destroying the parent-child relationship.
Why do Teenagers Lie?
Parents of kids between years 10 and 19 understand that lies are unavoidable during a child’s teenage years. But why do teenagers lie?
Scientifically, this is due to your kid’s brain development. When your teen’s physical appearance grows, his brain development isn’t finished. The area in the prefrontal cortex which controls reasoning, emotion, impulse, and self-regulation aren’t completely developed.
As a result, your teen acts more impulsive, moody, and reckless in terms of decision-making. This eventually comes out in a form of bad decisions, including lying to their parents.
7 Types of Teen Lies
Spotting a teen’s lie is not always easy. Some teenagers are not even sure that they are smart enough to deceive their parents, but somehow, they do. The parents bought their lies and they’re getting away with it.
Before you deal with the uncovered lies and ask your teen to reveal the truth, it’s greatly beneficial when you know what type of lies your teen may engage in. This information can help you detect lies and decide how you will respond to it when exposed.
According to Quick Base, here are the 7 types of teen lies.
Mistakes happen. Your teen may misspeak one or two things and they are embarrassed to admit that they misspoke.
Now, teenager’s brains are unique. When they misspeak and they know they do, teenagers tend not to correct themselves. Instead, they will elaborate on the misspoken things by lying. This could be due to the fact that when teenagers misspeak, it will be seen by adults as an effort to lie.
A lie by mistake can also happen. Your teen may believe that they are being truthful, but what they are saying is not true. When this happens, it could be an honest mistake instead of an intentional lie.
Rather than conducting an intentional lie, your teen will leave out details and relevant information. This type of lie lets the other party make assumptions in order to hide the truth.
Omissions are more than just white lies. It’s outright lying because when your teen omits information, he is no longer being transparent.
Although omission is not always intended to be harmful, it can still have detrimental effects on the parent-child relationship.
Your teen is conducting a restructuring of lies when he is distorting the context. He may act such as saying something in sarcasm, changing the characters, or altering the scene.
Now, sarcasm is the opposite of the truth, sometimes for the purpose of humor. Sarcastic statements that your teen is uttering are sort of a true lie. Some people considered sarcasm as a soft or harmless lie.
To further support their lies in a form of sarcasm, your teen may alter his characters or the situation.
The extent of denial can be quite large. Teenagers can voice denial because they are protecting themselves or somebody else from painful truths. Your teen may refuse to acknowledge the truth and is going against it by lying to you.
It’s hard to extract the truth from such lies because your teen may also be lying to themselves.
This type of lie can go hand in hand with the next one.
#5 Minimization & Justification
“It’s not that bad.”
“Everybody does it!”
You might have heard your teen uttered such words when they‘re caught lying. What minimization lies do, is reducing the effects of a mistake, a fault, or a judgment call. They also sometimes justify the consequences because according to them, well… “it’s not that bad”.
When you hear your teen defend himself in such behavior, he is justifying the lies he’s done to avoid remorse.
Teenagers often exaggerate what they do, think, feel, or experience as an effort to look cool, smart, mature, and to gain approval. Your teen may represent himself as a greater and better teen than he actually is.
This will cause him to tell lies that make him feel better or an effort to make people around him proud.
Your teen may deliberately invent a false story for social gain and applaud. When your teenagers make up stories, this could be a sign that the lie they’re telling is to avoid doing something or deny the responsibilities for their actions.
Top 10 Reasons Why Teenagers Lie
Mind-reading is a handful trick when it comes to parenting. Sadly, it doesn’t exist and perfect parenting is a myth. You don’t always know why your teen lies and it’s fine.
In the beginning, I’ve mentioned that teens lie as a part of their developmental milestones. They lie because some parts of their prefrontal cortex who are responsible for emotions, planning, and decision-making process are not yet online.
This affects how teenagers are reckless and impulsive in terms of decision-making which often leads them directly or indirectly into lying.
In a simpler way, the reasons why your teenagers lie could be one or more of these reasons.
#1 They Don’t Want You to Worry
A survey of 1,843 teenagers revealed the truth that some teens do not want to open up, simply because they don’t want their parents to worry about them. Be it about friends, dating, school, or dating.
This actually brings to a case where parents of teenagers should begin honest and open family discussions to address the issue their teens are currently facing.
#2 Teen Lies to Avoid Getting in Trouble
I think we can all agree that at one point in our adolescent life, we lied to avoid getting in trouble. This can be the case with your teen that he may lie simply to avoid consequences of violating the set of rules.
#3 They are Avoiding Embarrassment
No one likes to feel embarrassed. When your teenagers lie, it could be that they’ve done something that makes them feel uncool, dumb, or foolish.
#4 They are Afraid
Dr. Jerry Weichman said that teenagers can also be heavily overwhelmed by various situations they’re struggling with in life.
The reason why your teen lies may be that he is afraid to be labeled for the rest of his life when he opens up about his thoughts or emotions.
#5 Your Teen Lies to Protect or Defend Friends
Teenagers also lie to protect friends or siblings if they are in serious trouble with their parents or authorities.
#6 They Cover Up Their Emotions
Teens may be uncomfortable sharing emotions that make them look immature such as that make them feel embarrassed or afraid.
#7 They Engage in a Harmless Behavior
Most parents set rules that should not be broken in order to protect everyone in the family. But your teen may see it differently. Your kid may engage in a behavior that they see harmless but will make you flip out when you know the truth.
You may have set rules that your teen thinks are arbitrary or unfair. Your teen sees that you cannot understand the circumstances they’re in and choose to lie about it.
#8 It Makes Themselves Look Better
Your teen may exaggerate things they’ve done to gain social approval, to impress somebody, or to seek admiration.
Teenagers realize that they’ve done something they’re not proud of and it’s bugging them. As a defense mechanism, they will come up with stories that make them feel and appear heroic.
This is more common nowadays with the age of social media. Teens who have access to the internet will often link their self-worth to how much internet points they get.
When the issue is not handled properly, teenagers may lie to gain some attraction from social media friends.
#9 To Establish Autonomy
One reason that your teen lies is to express a desire for autonomy. Your teenage kids may yearn for the sense of self-governance that allows them to feel, behave, and think independently.
This can often lead to tension between parents and teenagers as teens may start looking forward to doing “adult” things while parents prefer to keep their teenagers under the family rules.
#10 Teens Lie for Their Privacy
Linked to the reason above, teenagers lie to protect their privacy. As they develop and become more mature, they’d like to keep things to themselves.
Your teenagers may lie to enable him to act on his own values and interests. As parents, you may feel entitled to know everything your teenager is dealing with.
But, please do realize that when he or she starts lying to protect their privacy, it’s time for you to set ground rules and establish boundaries.
How Do I Know If My Teenager Is Lying?
Even as parents, you can’t always tell whether your teenager is lying or omitting important facts. There are never 100% clear signs that your teen is lying, especially when he or she lies often enough to be convincing.
Research published by the National Council on Family Relations called Other Teens Drink, but Not My Kid states that adolescents reported regular alcohol use, but less than one-third of parents were aware of their adolescent’s drinking.
Psychology Today mentioned 7 signs of a lying teenager but even so, they claimed that even when your teenager exhibits those signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is lying.
It’s hard to tell if your kid’s behavior is due to she or he isn’t telling the truth or other factors such as inhibition or insecurity. At the end of the day, there is no guarantee that any methods out there can tell you if your teenager is lying.
The lies your teen tells you is something out of your control. However, you can still control how you react when exposed to such a situation where you caught your teen lied to prevent further damage to the relationship.
What Parents Should Do When Their Teenager Lies to Them
Teenagers often lie because they believe that telling the truth will result in punishment, disapproval, anger, or a lecture. Teens are the most honest with their parents when there is no harsh punishment or unjust treatment from their parents.
Before stepping into the suggestions on how to handle teen lies, you have to resist the urge to trap your teen in a lie. Trying to catch your teen in a lie will inherently involve some level of dishonesty from your side and this will further the damage because your teen will see it as an act of hypocrisy.
When your teen fins our that they’re the target of your elaborate sting operation, it lowers the odds of them wanting to be honest in the future.
Your teen may feel that you’re not being upfront with him, so why should he be honest with you?
Rather than trapping your teen in a lie, you can try to follow these 7 steps below. They are designed to guide you in dealing with a teenager who lies to you in an appropriate and elegant way.
#1 Identify Why Your Teen Lies
It’s natural that as parents, you are enraged and feeling pain when your teen violates the set of ethics you have taught them since childhood.
However, not all lies are the same. Before you act and deal with your teen’s lies, take a hard look at why he or she lied.
Was it to protect someone’s feelings or his own privacy? Was it to spare him from embarrassment? Or, was it to avoid the blame and responsibility for his actions?
When your teen lies to protect someone’s feelings, privacy, or even to avoid embarrassment, you can use this chance for a family discussion and no real punishment is necessary.
However, when your teen lies to cover up the mess he’s made and even avoid responsibility by cheating, it is important for you as parents to show your teenager that the consequences of his lie may be severe.
Lisa Heffernan suggested that the lesson to teach your kid is that had he or she chosen honesty, you might have been able to discuss their misconduct. Although confrontation might be unavoidable, there’s still a chance that you would be understanding.
#2 Don’t Label Your Teen as Liars
A mind of a teenager is complex and they take labels seriously. In fact, afraid of labeling is one reason why teenagers lie.
If they see themselves as a liar, they will lie more often. This is not something you will encourage them to do.
What you need to do as a parent is to separate the behavior from the person.
#3 Have an Open Communication
Teenagers have their own problems. They can also be overwhelmed by various situations they’re currently facing in life. When your teen is in this situation, they will lie so they do not have to address the issue.
Ross Szabo commented that having open communication with teens from a young age about their emotions and coping skills is vital.
This will lead you to understand your teen’s world and to see the world from your teen’s perspective. When your teen feels understood and supported, he will less likely to lie about his situation and will come to you for help.
#4 Offer Love and Show Interest
According to the online survey that involved teenagers, 78% of respondents admitted that they felt their parents love and support them.
This is a good statistic and if you’ve been showing love and support to your teenager, keep going. On top of that, you can be more available and interested in your teen’s activities.
Find ways to communicate with your teen when he is relaxed. Create moments to connect with your teen and make sure they know that you’re interested in what they want to share.
If you’re a parent to another 22% teenagers who admitted to feeling otherwise, you need to start giving and showing your teen more affections.
#5 Appreciate Your Teen for Being Honest
Teenagers lie due to being afraid of punishment and consequences.
When you reprimand and lecture your teen for the ugly truth they revealed, I guarantee you, they will never tell the truth again. Such an attitude is never expected from parents who want their teenagers to be honest with them.
Instead of straight being mad at your teen for the misbehavior that they’ve admitted, you are encouraged as parents to acknowledge their honesty before addressing the main problem.
When your teen admits to something he or she has done wrong, try to start your sentence with this.
“I appreciate that you’re being honest. It’s not easy for you and it must have been taking a lot of courage for you to tell the truth, I know. And I am proud of your honesty. Now, let’s talk about the problem…”
Then, you can utter how you feel about his or her deeds in a calm and soft manner. Avoid shouting, yelling, and blaming your teen entirely. Address your disappointment, pain, and anger without profanities. They will see it as if their parents hate them and it will only cause further damage.
#6 Emphasize the Consequences of Dishonesty
Take your time to emphasize that lying can cause harm not only to the teenagers themselves but also to other people.
I know that probably you’ve had this conversation when your teen was a toddler or at preschool age and you thought you’ve handled it. But now as your kids grow, you are expected to emphasize the consequences of lying.
For example, you can mention that lying can hurt other people they lie to. It destroys trust and puts them in jeopardy.
Make your teen understand that a lie is usually followed by another lie. It complicates things and it will only give them disadvantages when they’re adults.
#7 Be Vulnerable
Open up to your teen and share about a time when you were a teenager. Appropriately tell your kid when you didn’t feel safe sharing something with your own parents. Explain why you hide things from your parents and what prevented you from talking.
Vulnerability leads to vulnerability.
When you don’t share your experience with your teenager, he or she will not see the importance of doing so. Telling the problem you faced when you’re at his age and describing how you solved the problem by being honest can help shape his mind about being honest.
Lead them to believe that honesty brings eventually good outcomes.
Compulsive Lying in Teenagers
Teenagers lie compulsively as a way to control what the parents know about their lives. They may develop a habit of lying as a way to cover up dangerous behavior such as substance abuse or self-harm.
Compulsive lying can be seen as a way for your teenager to hide poor grades, social anxiety, social isolation, or bullying.
To this day, the DSM-5 does not classify compulsive or pathological lying as a standalone mental health disorder. However, the behavior of compulsive lying can be a symptom of various personality disorders and other mental health disorders such as antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, borderline, bipolar, and ADHD.
Dealing with teen lies can take time, especially if they’ve gotten into the habit of lying. You need to understand that it’s a process to get them back on the honesty track. Remember not to nag them to tell the truth as it could push your teen away and lie some more.
Give him some time and privacy. It allows them to become more independent and build their self-confidence before coming out with the truth.
Why do teenagers lie? This question has spark interest among parents to understand their teens’ minds. Scientifically, lies among teenagers are common and even seen as developmental milestones.
Teenagers lie due to various reasons. For example, your teen may lie because they don’t want to make you worry, or try to cover up their emotions. It is important to identify why your teenage kid lies in order to deal with them.
Once you understand the reason behind the untold truth, you can start responding in a calm and elegant manner.
- Don’t label your teen as a liar as this will only encourage them to lie more.
- Establish open communication where your kid can safely express what they think and feel without being scolded. This can help you understand your teen’s coping skills.
- Offer love and support. Most teenagers feel loved but not supported. Not only you need to word your support but you also need to display them. Be interested in what they want to say.
- Give appreciation when your teen is being honest. Show your disappointment, anger, and pain after acknowledging their bravery for being honest. Then, voice your feelings without using profanities.
- Emphasize that there are consequences of lying. Every lies your teen voices will affect other people’s opinions and trust in him. Deliver the message that lies will get him nowhere.
- Be vulnerable to your teen by sharing experiences from your own teenage years. Tell him what you didn’t share with your parents and what made you choose to be honest and open. Lead them to believe that honesty brings good outcomes at the end.