If you’ve caught your teen lying in the past or are suspicious that they’re not telling you the truth, don’t worry. Here, we’ll cover potential reasons why teens lie and what they lie about so that you can strategically approach the topic. Lying is completely normal when you’re dealing with new and personal growth and it’s natural to instinctually hide perceived flaws, outlets, or coping mechanisms, even if they’re benign. By no means does lying indicate that your teen is a bad person.
Parents can find it difficult to confront teens about lying, especially if your foundation for trust unstable. If your teen is exhibiting patterns of defiance, they might become more defensive if they feel like they’re on trial. We’re going to go over some facts about why your teen might be lying so you can be prepared to address it from a collaborative and healing approach.
Topics Your Teen May Have Lied About
Research shows that teens have admitted to lying about several topics: who they’re with, where they have been, alcohol and drug use, and sexual activity.
- People and Places
Teens have been found to lie most often about the places they’ve been or who they have been hanging out with. Dishonesty about these two topics is prevalent among lying teens, so if you find that they haven’t told you the truth about the company they keep, it’s a good idea to enter a conversation with a game plan.
You can notify them that these issues involve your concern for their wellbeing and that there are consequences to breaching your trust about them. Repercussions may include tracking their mobile device in case of emergencies or having to expand your communication to include more reliable sources such as their friend’s parents.
- Substance Use
Drug and alcohol consumption are another common topic that teens lie about. Many teens don’t receive an in-depth education about the effects or consequences of substance use beyond the social taboo and parental disapproval. This informational vacancy can leave teens with unanswered questions and in need of preparation for peer pressure.
Your teen might be confronted in social situations to partake in harmful and illegal activities, so they’ll want to keep their behavior a secret. Emphasizing safety and concern is important to establish a threshold of trust with your teen about substance abuse or social circumstances that can put them in danger. You can let them know that if they ever feel pressured or in a dangerous situation that you’ll be there to help them out of it.
- Sexual Activity
When it comes to intimate relationships, disapproval from parents and embarrassment can lead teens to want to maintain secrecy about their sexual activity. However, you need to be able to communicate with mutual trust in order to keep your teen safe. One tactic you can use to approach the subject is treating them as though they are already sexually active. This will allow you to speak bluntly about topics such as using protection, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy. Speaking directly and candidly with your teen about their sex life can help meet them at a conversational middle ground, allowing them to demonstrate emotional maturity while expressing your concerns.
Reasons Your Teen May Have Lied
While lying feels personal, it often has more to do with your teen’s mental and emotional problem-solving capacity than it does with wanting to hurt you. It’s important to strike a balance of anticipating the reason why your teen is lying in the first place and open-mindedness. This approach will limit tendencies to prematurely travel down any rabbit holes of blame while also preparing you to help your teen be more forthcoming with the truth.
- Emotional Vulnerability
A common tactic that teens will use to cope with uncomfortable emotions (i.e. fear, jealousy, nervousness, attraction, anger, etc.) is to hide them. Because teens face a myriad of new emotional challenges from fluid friendship dynamics while transitioning to adulthood, they’re likely to harbor amplified feelings of urgency and seriousness. For these reasons, they might feel the need to deal with them privately and reject help from anyone. You can preface discussions with your teen about truth-telling by demonstrating emotional solidarity and personal experience with comparable openness.
One distinctive reason your teen will lie is for self-preservation or to protect someone in their friend group. Whether it’s for being caught doing something they think is wrong or to help someone else escape getting into trouble, they’ll do their best to make sure that you don’t know about it. However, their paranoia may be wrapped around guilt for taking a break when their grades are slipping to something more serious. If your teen is lying to protect themselves or a friend, this is an opportunity to start the conversation by letting them know you’re here to help.
At a time when your teen is maturing and figuring out who they are as a person, you can expect them to try to adjust how they present themselves according to other people’s opinions. Teens are quick to lie about any perceived flaws they might have in order to maintain the façade of an idealized version of themselves.
While your teen is navigating the transition to adulthood, they could be lying to maintain autonomy. The less their parents know, the more they are responsible for the outcome of their actions. The idea of accountability can, at times, be vague. So, the expectation that your teen has to take on more responsibilities may be misconstrued into a mindset of isolation. This can lead them to want to problem-solve independently and seek reassurance that their decisions have an influence over their lives. It’s important to have an honest discussion about weighing the risks of mistakes and pitfalls and revisit how much personal authority accompanies how well they can manage their agenda.
Now You Know
It may feel uncomfortable to confront your teen about lying, but they might not have another outlet to discuss these serious issues. It’s important to keep an open channel for communication with your teens and let them know your intentions for wanting to help. Despite the potential punitive consequences of lying, offering your experiences, empathy, and compassion can help your teen confide in you with transparency.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.