A strong parental relationship with your teen helps build honesty.

How to Build Honesty in Teens

by Freddie Silver

Most parents want to raise trustworthy children who'll become morally upright adults. They want to instill honesty in their offspring but sometimes fear that peer pressure and the media might have more of an effect on their kids than they do. But parents do have tremendous influence on their teenage children. America's Promise Alliance finds that most teens report a close relationship with their parents, and a University of Nebraska study on teen behavior found that the parent-teen relationship remains the most important relationship in the lives of most teens.

Don't wait until your kids are teenagers. As soon as your kids are old enough to understand the concept of truth and lies, usually around 4 years of age, it's important to show them you value honesty and expect it from them, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on its Building Blocks For a Healthy Future website.

Be a role model. Parents won't succeed if they adopt a "do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" attitude. If parents want honest teens, they must be honest themselves. That means resisting the temptation to bring home your employer's office supplies, and it means telling the truth to your spouse and your children.

Keep the lines of communication open with your teen. Encourage him to discuss all topics freely. Demonstrate your willingness to listen with an open mind to what he has to say.

Be supportive. Don't show your disdain when he confesses to you he has done something wrong. You can't expect your teen to share secrets with you if you react negatively or punish him for what he reveals.

Preserve your teen's sense of self-worth. For example, if your teen was caught cheating on a test, tell your teen you expect better behavior than that because you know he is a good person.

Recognize the different degrees of dishonesty and react accordingly. If you catch your teen telling a fib that might have been created to protect a friend's privacy, you'll respond differently than if you discover your teen lied about something more serious, such as drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

Impose logical and reasonable consequences on a teen who gets himself into trouble. Be prepared to show leniency toward a teen who is honest about his behavior. Tell him why you are going easy on him. For example, if he borrows your car and returns it with a dented fender, he should pay for the repairs from money he has earned. Consider a further punishment such as grounding only if he took the car without your permission or lied about the damage.

Don't over-react when you find your teen has not been honest with you. Recognize that most teens go through a rebellious stage and test their parents' limits. This doesn't mean you should ignore the issue. Express your disappointment in their actions and hold them accountable. Make them responsible for restitution, if appropriate, but don't show anger and don't give the impression that you've give up on them.


  • If your teen is often caught lying, cheating or stealing, seek professional help. These dishonest acts might be caused by emotional issues that require counseling.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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