Why Teens Lie and What You Can Do to Curb It

Posted on May 10th, 2012, 0 Comments

The parents I work with (as well as those who’ve completed research surveys for nearly two decades) rank “honesty” as the trait they most want to see in their children. For parents, no other trait even comes close.

For the average teen, however, truth (or lack of it) is often simply a way to get to do what they want to do. In fact, according to researcher Nancy Darling, teens are much more likely to lie than to protest a rule.

So once our kids become teens, the dialogues around their requests – regardless of the closeness of our relationships with them – get a whole lot more complicated. And they use a variety of strategies to make the conversations complicated. For example …

Them: Ben is having some kids over Saturday night. Can I go?

Us: You know the rules. Will his parents be home during the party?

Them (evading the question): I’m sure he wouldn’t be allowed to have kids over if his parents weren’t going to be home.


Them: For sure. Both his mom and dad will be there (omitting the fact that they’ll be there for only part of the evening).


Them (distorting the facts): Who said it’s a party? He’s just having a few kids over to hang out.


Them (totally fabricating the facts): Yes! Of course, his parents will be there the whole time.

Most teens – in the spirit of growing up and making their own decisions as well as to protect us from what they feel is needless worry – feel compelled to withhold information and put certain things in the “none of your business” category.

Some parents respond by laying down the law with lots of lectures and warnings and way too many rules to adequately enforce. Other parents envision a tradeoff between strictness and staying informed. They think that the best way to encourage their kids to keep them in the loop (so they can help if needed) is to not set rules.

In reality, the parents who are most in the loop have strategies in place that teach their teens about the worth of honesty. These parents:

– Are clear about their values and have a few, unambiguous rules that are based on their values

– Are consistent about explaining, monitoring, and enforcing these rules

– Give their teens quite a bit of freedom to make their own decisions in other areas and gradually let their teens earn more freedom by being responsible and trustworthy.

This kind of parenting takes a lot of work. But the extra effort pays off. After all, the cornerstone of our relationship with our teens is trust. Trust is what keeps us from becoming nervous wrecks when they’re out of our sight. And when teens feel our trust, they are much less likely to do anything to jeopardize it.

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