Your relationship with your teen is built upon a foundation of trust -- which is why it can feel so betraying to find out your teen has lied to you. Whether it's a little white lie or a tall tale, telling lies complicates your relationship and makes it hard for you to surrender independence to your teen. If you find that your teen is guilty of lying habitually, find out the reasoning behind the fibs. Getting to the bottom of the lies and creating predictable consequences can help break your teen of the lying habit.
1. The Costs of Lying
While a little white lie here and there can seem harmless, a teen's habit of avoiding the truth can have serious consequences. In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist Carl Pickhardt warns that compulsive teen liars needlessly complicate their lives by constantly having to remember lies and cover their tracks. They also live in fear of being found out, which can add stress, and feel a lack of control when their lies become larger and larger. Talking to your teen about the dangers of lying can help him understand why honesty is the best policy.
2. Why Teens Lie
While you might see lying as a hurtful act, lying is usually done for selfish reasons. Your teen doesn't lie to hurt you, but to protect himself. He may tell you a fib because he's afraid of consequences or wants to avoid unpleasantness, but he also may lie to protect himself and his past misgivings. When a teen lies compulsively, his untruths can take over nearly every other part of his life, prompting him to make up more and more stories and spiral out of control. A habitual liar may not lie because he wants to, but because he feels like he has no choice, warns Pickhardt.
3. Consequences for Lying
When you find out that your teen has been lying to you, consequences are definitely in order. Regular consequences, however, might not be your best bet, since grounding or taking away electronics don't affect your teen's habit. Instead, use consequences to help him see the error of his ways by confessing to those he's lied to and making up for those untruths. If he lied to a teacher about why his assignment was late, for instance, insist that he admit the lie and offer to do work for extra credit to rectify the issue. Keep in mind that while your teen can apologize for lying, his victims have to decide how and when to forgive. Lying can be extremely painful for some, so prep your teen so that he doesn't expect automatic forgiveness.
4. Breaking the Habit
Your teen may need professional help to break the habit of lying, especially when lying is just the symptom of some other emotion, like fear. In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein suggests that you consider yourself an emotional coach to figure out why your teen lies and to stop lying as soon as you notice it happening. If you can't get your teen to stop lying, a therapist who deals with teens can help give your child coping mechanisms to stop a lie before it starts and to delve deeper into the reasons for his lying. Talk to his pediatrician for a recommendation to help put your teen back on track.