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What do I do when my teen is lying?


Lying feels personal, but what if it’s not?

In fact, 98% of teenagers worldwide lie to their parents.

That’s not a typo. Ninety-eight percent.

So, the bad news is that your teen is probably lying to you. But the good news is that it’s not really about you.

In episode 112, Chris Robey talks about what’s really happening most of the time when teens lie and how to handle tough conversations about dishonesty.

Check out these resources on teenagers and lying.

Podcast Transcript:

podcast where we believe that teenagers are not a problem to be solved but we are here to help you equip teenagers through the power of connection hey guys this is Chris Roby coming at you with another episode of our summer series about teenage behaviors and what might be considered stereotypes today I get the I guess privilege of talking about uh lying as my topic to work through and this is a tough one because as parents of teenagers we want to trust our children as helpers or teenagers we want
to trust in every relationship is built on a foundation of trust but when a teenager lies that trust is broken quickly and it’s really hard to pick up those pieces it’s hard to to move forward once a teenager starts uh lying or being untruthful to us but when you look at the research adolescent lying is not really an outlier unfortunately it is kind of the norm um in fact Dr Nancy darling who’s someone I’ll quote later on as well on this podcast um she’s a professor um at Oberlin College she can she
concludes that 98 of teenagers worldwide lie to their parents 98 and there’s a funny anecdote in the in the article that I found here uh when given this statistic to teenagers they say oh I guess the other two are the other two percent are lying which means they all lie but it’s just whether or not 98 is um necessarily the statistic um it’s pretty well agreed upon a research the lying um is something that a lot if not most if not all teenagers uh engage with and this is tough um because are we really are we really
raising and supporting um uh teenagers who are just gonna lie to us all the time or being a truthful um we don’t really think that’s the the case here and we want to talk a little bit about what this looks like because it’s not just about being a truthful necessarily it’s about what are some of the motivations for a teenager lying to us or being untruthful um it’s not always malicious it’s not always just a horrible thing but there’s sometimes reasons behind why a teenager May lie uh according to an article from
the Newport Academy they identify these reasons uh as basically seven different reasons number one and this is a pretty obvious one just to get out of trouble uh maybe maybe they’ve been caught in something something is um if the truth came out they would get in trouble so for them maybe it would be just easier to lie about it to get out of trouble makes a whole lot of sense maybe in order to do something they’re not allowed to do or that is dangerous so to lie to get and be able to do something that they know their parents
or or the folks in their life would never approve of um maybe another reason is they think that their parents rules are unfair maybe they grew up in a house where it’s more rigid and stringent and all their friends are able to do a certain thing but they’re not because their parents rules are too strict and their eyes at least and so they would lie to get around their perceived unfair rules um maybe another reason is that they what they think they want to do is just harmless maybe they think there’s
there’s no harm in doing this and so as you see in the movies and TV what’s a little little white lie right um and so maybe they just lie because they think it doesn’t really hurt anything um another reason uh the outline is it’s a way to protect other people’s feel feelings maybe they live in an emotionally unstable home where they feel like they have to protect their parents feelings or maybe they have an unhealthy relationship where if they said what they really meant um they think they would hurt someone’s
feelings so it’s better just to say just to go along to get along and and really not be truthful maybe this is the way they want to maintain their own privacy and they just want to be uh kind of out of whatever scrutiny is being uh held over them and maybe sometimes this has to do with things around sexuality or um things that maybe they feel like would cause problems they would rather just keep private just to make some kind of privacy um a teenager might lie and finally um to establish and uh sorry to establish their independence and their
autonomy so basically they want and that kind of goes back to some of the same reasons around identity if the if who they are isn’t what other people want them to be sometimes it’s easier just to lie about that and um kind of avoid talking about that now I think you know all these reasons are obviously uh very valid if you as you read through them but you know when it comes to teenagers themselves and kind of what they are going through developmentally which we talk about a lot on this podcast um I think those last two are really
important to go back and just highlight this the maintaining of privacy and establishing Independence and autonomy we talk about the teenage task of self-differentiation of just becoming themselves and sometimes when a teenager is becoming themselves um they do so in a way that their parents would not approve or maybe they don’t feel like other people would have proven their life so they just don’t tell the truth about that and so while I’m not going to make a judgment call on the morality of that
um that is a reason that a teenager might lie is because they are becoming who they are and they in their mind might think no one will ever prove of this so I’m going to I’m going to keep this to myself or just lie about it all together in these in these episodes we’re talking through questions to ask and I really struggle with this one honestly because when you discover that someone has been lying to your teenager’s been lying to you your questions are really important because uh you are as someone who’s been
lied to very hurt and in some pain and the the student or the person who has been doing the lying now feels defensive and maybe um has guilt or shame or maybe they don’t but either way there’s defensiveness when it comes to that that person who’s been caught in a lie so I I don’t have a question or a set of questions necessarily but what I would recommend is to Think Through how you ask your questions is really really important we talk about this a lot of teen live but I think it’s worth going back to is
trying to avoid the question why starting with the word why when it comes to this because that’s the first thing especially in a situation with lying is why would you do this why would you lie to me why would you say that why would you not be truthful with me all those questions are valid and come from a place of hurt and concern but all those questions uh being heard by someone who already feels defensive uh will likely be shut down pretty quick or be met with more resistance and so we recommend that uh
staying away from starting questions with the word why but using how what or so um to start your questions and just in general we want to avoid framing our questions in a way and that’s going to cause further defensiveness or lack of connection in that relationship now another way um we can ask our questions is to not ask questions face to face initially but if lying has been discovered to be able to say listen I know we have something to talk about here were but both of us are way too emotional here uh I’m gonna write down
some questions um for you to think about and let’s talk about this further down the road uh and so write down your questions for your teenager to consider before you guys actually talk actually give them some time to consider where you’re coming from so they can have some time to process ahead of time we’ll provide a link with some potential questions for certain situations like this but I thought this was a really good idea um to to try to take some of the emotion out of it to be able to to write down
your questions for your teenage teenager to consider before they come back and sit down and talk in that way you guys are both on the same page some different ways to help um I’d mention uh Dr darling earlier in her research but she has a great recommendation as she says that rulemaking plus warmth equals a teenager who is more likely to ask for your permission and more likely connect to confess that they’ve lied or broken a rule she says you they need to respect you and believe that you will be a warm
accepting and non-punitive relationship she says I love the idea of rule making plus warmth um so basically in when following up with a teenager who has been untruthful um it’s really easy to slip into punitive mode of uh rule making of of consequences and and I and I don’t hear me wrong I believe consequences have to be assigned because you know we don’t want to create a world where lying is okay that being a truthful or deceptive is okay but also that this relationship that you guys are forming is important so rule
making plus warmth and so basically reminding them hey I’m here for you I love you I care for you um I will never um I will always be here for you but this is the truth right and so being able to remind them how important your relationship is before you uh apply consequences or accountability is really really important and we from a sense of perspective just remind ourselves that this hurts in the moment but remembering the big picture is crucial when working with a teenager who’s been untruthful we want to be in this relationship for
the Long Haul and want to be able to step back and for a moment and remember that it is crucial for the long-term health of this relationship that we get this right if we choose to drop the hammer and and go all consequence without any warmth they might just feel more safe lying to us we want you to highlight the importance of trust in being vulnerable as the helper to allow the students to see that you or someone they can trust even when they mess up and are untrustworthy as we wrap up here’s something just some
words or some thoughts that you can say to a teenager or a teen today you see I I respect you and I want to respect you deeper each day but when you are not truthful it makes it incredibly typical to trust if you’ve been untruthful with me maybe you don’t trust me let’s find ways we can move forward where we can both trust each other more and with that that is a wrap for this episode online and we hope this was helpful if nothing else started a conversation about what does it look like whenever your teenager lies and
maybe has some ideas of why that might happen we ask you to subscribe to this content if you’ve not already done so in your favorite podcast player follow us on social media for some incredible content every single day from the Teen life team uh review us and your favorite podcast app so that uh other people know that this is content that is worth downloading and checking out if this episode uh resonated with you or you have someone who is working through a situation just just like this you can text this episode to a friend and they
would really benefit from this and with that we will see you next week [Music] thank you [Music]

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About Us:

Chris Robey

Chris Robey


Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

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