Why teenagers lie to their parents

I remember the first time I realized teenagers lie to their parents. My daughter and her friend were deep in conversation when I happened to overhear what they were saying. The friend said she had gone to a soccer game to see a boy she liked but had told her mother she was at our house. When my daughter asked why, the friend responded that her mother not only didn’t like the boy, but also wouldn’t let her be out late on a school night at a soccer game.

As I listened to the exchange, between this young woman and my daughter, I gained insight into the mind of a teenager. From that day on, I became convinced all teenagers lie to their parents. Even the good ones who you think tell you everything.

At some point during high school, all three of my teenagers have lied to me. I am sure of it.

Sometimes, the lies are tiny to cover up for a friend. Sometimes they are big to bend the rules or hide what they don’t want me to know.

On a recent Saturday night, my son told me he was an hour late coming home because he and friends rented a scooter and the scooter stopped running at a certain time and they had to walk back to their car, which took a lot longer than expected. As he was telling me this crazy story, I knew he was lying to me. I turned to him and said, “I’m mad that you are late. But I’m more mad that you are trying to lie to me.”

As a teenager, I remember lots of times I didn’t tell my mother the truth or the exact details about where I was going or what I was doing. Teenagers lie not just because they don’t want to get punished, but often because they really don’t want their parents to know everything about their lives. They lie because they want to feel like they have their own lives that we can’t fully control.

Which is why most of us parents snoop.

We know that as our children mature and become teenagers, they keep information from us — or tell us what we want to hear. Unfortunately, it’s normal teen behavior to hide stuff from parents, and sometimes, to lie. To me, that’s one of the hardest parts of raising teenagers.

Research suggests that on at least one important matter last year, you were not told the truth by your teen, according an article in the Washington Post. The article then raises the bigger question: in that white-hot moment of anger what are we going to do about it?

That’s where things get tricky.

If we react by yelling, like we tend to do when we discover the lie, our teen most often will get defense and even shut down. Unfortunately when then find ourselves even further from the truth. I used this approach and the seen the result and it’s very frustrating,

Expert Nancy Darling says before we get furious and react, we need to take a hard look at why our teen lied. Darling, a professor at Oberlin College who has studied teens and lying, suggests we ask ourselves, “Were they trying to protect someone’s feelings or their own privacy? Or, were they avoiding blame and responsibility for their own misbehavior?”

From my years of raising teens, I now believe I am a super sleuth mom who can sniff out a lie. And when I hear one, I go with my gut. If they lie to avoid the house rules, I try to make it known that they if they had told me the truth, I would have treated the situation with more understanding.

The big lesson I try to impart — and one that challenges parents of teens — is that lying is never the better option.

An hour past his curfew, I explained to my son that I am not punishing him for being home late. If he had he texted and told me he was going to be late, I would have been lenient. “The time you will spend grounded at home is for lying,” I told him.

Hopefully, the message was heard.

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1 Comment

  1. Financially Fit Mom May 20, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    How do you get around the argument that he’s not lying? I agree they lie, sometimes it’s blatantly obvious, but when I accuse my teen of lying if I don’t have hard facts to back it up and prove it, then I am calling my child a liar and violating the trust in our relationship (her perspective). Sometimes I even wonder if she actually believes some of the things she tells me are true because she’s told herself the lie for so long!


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