Lying is can be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as Conduct Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. However, lying can also occur secondary to typical developmental pressures that teens face. This entry is designed to address the latter scenario.
Teens can lie for many different reasons: to avoid consequences, to be spared parent admonishments, to get out of responsibilities and so forth. However, a top reason teens lie is because they imagine that the truth will get them nowhere with their parents. It is as if a teen is an attorney who, believing that the judge always decides against him, stops making truthful petitions to the court. This may or may not be a fair assessment. But, if a teen thinks that her parents will always decide against her if she lobbies truthfully, it is more likely that she will lie. There are at least six things we as parents can do to incentivize truth telling:
#1. Ask yourself if the thing your teen wants to do stands to be physically harmful, psychologically harmful or unduly taxing of your resources. If the answer to all three is “no,” maybe it’s okay to let your teen do that thing, even if it drives you crazy.
#2. Be open to your teen having good arguments that change your mind. Often our teens have information or perspectives that we hadn’t considered. If we allow ourselves to objectively consider this information, and change our minds when that’s indicated, we increase the odds that our teens will be truthful with us.
#4. Spend one hour a week doing special time with your teen. Readers of this blog will recognize this theme. For an instruction on how to do special time see this link or Chapter One of my parenting book.
#5. Allow your teen three chances to change your mind after you say “no” to something he wants to do. It might go like this: 1. your teen makes his initial request; 2. you respond, offering a reason if it’s a “no;” 3. your teen makes a counterargument; 4. you listen and respond; 4. if it’s still a “no” your teen makes a second counterargument; 5. you listen and respond; 5. if it’s still a “no” your teen makes a third and final counterargument; 6. you listen and respond; if it’s a “no” discussion would normally be over at this point. Also, keep in mind that being open to being persuaded by good arguments (not pushed over, but persuaded) is important.