It’s almost guaranteed that your teen will lie, and there are a number of reasons why. When teens lie to their parents it is usually to avoid punishment or judgment. Sometimes it is because they feel shame and do not want to admit they did something wrong. In other cases, teens may not know how to explain the truth. (I’ve coached a lot of girls in this area and taught them how to have hard, honest conversations with their parents). Teens will lie to friends when they want to fit in, get attention, or appear interesting. Sometimes they lie to protect a friend from being hurt. Very often, teens lie to get out of something they don’t want to do.
Whatever the reason, it is important to address the lie and deal with your teen in an intentional and constructive way.
Talk about trust
Talk about the links between trust, honesty, and freedom. Start these conversations as early as possible, but even with a teen in their mid-teen years, it’s not too late. As your teen gets older, she will want more freedom and in order to feel safe in allowing her freedom, you need to trust her. Your teen will benefit from knowing how to maintain trust as well as how to mend it when it’s broken. Be explicit that a big part of trust is telling the truth.
When you make a mistake, own it. Show your teen that you have the courage to be vulnerable and take responsibility when you’ve done something wrong.
Admit that sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth. Be forthcoming with your teen about experiences you have had when telling the truth was difficult and how you found a way to express a hard truth.
Find examples in books, movies, or television shows of people who lie. Engage in a conversation about why the character lied, what the outcomes were, and what they could have done differently.
When you catch your teen in a lie, call it out and try to uncover her motivation. What is she hoping to gain or avoid? Is she trying to solve a problem? Appear cool to a friend? Usually, you will discover a need underneath her lie and then you can address this need.
If your teen is lying to make someone feel better, talk about how to have honest and compassionate conversations. If she is lying to make herself look more desirable, talk about the importance of authenticity and the consequences of pretending to be someone you are not. If your teen is lying to avoid an unpleasant experience, explore her fear thoughts and help her tune into the choices she has and the actions she can take to create a more positive outcome.
If you feel like your teen will reject these conversations or disengage, consider seeking the help of a life coach. A big part of coaching is building perspective and teaching teens practical ways to handle difficult situations.
Many parents wonder, what is an appropriate consequence for lying? Instead of taking away her phone (again) consider this:
Does your teen’s lie require punishment or intentional guidance? Punishment is penalizing and controlling, whereas guiding is instructive and usually more effective at teaching teens not to repeat an offense.
When lies call for punishment, it’s important the punishment fits the crime. That means first determining why your teen lied and then setting an appropriate, logical consequence. For example, if your teen lied about her screen time or social media use, it is appropriate to take away her phone. If she lied about drinking at a party, it is appropriate to limit her social activities for a weekend or take away her driving privilege.
Some lies call for intentional parenting and guidance, as well as allowing your teen to experience a natural consequence. For example, if your teen lied about doing her homework, it is appropriate for you to express your disappointment and allow her to experience the natural consequence of dealing with her teacher and earning a zero. If your teen is lying to a friend in order to avoid conflict, it is important to teach her how to express herself in a way that is honest and direct without being hurtful. You may need to consider how you can build her confidence and assertiveness skills so she feels competent in having difficult conversations.
Address it and let it go
Treat lies as a one-time offense. Acknowledge the lie but avoid lecturing, as she will most likely s tune out. Also, avoid labeling your teen a liar or bringing up past lies. This will lead to tension and more lying. Your teen will start to think: my parents don’t believe me anyway, so why bother being honest?? Instead, deal with the lie when it happens, enforce the logical or natural consequence, and move on.