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Exposing Deceit in Your Teen

These steps will help you keep track of the truth.
By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


Often, a child will take advantage of you in any way he can to get to do what he wants. Just when you think you've told him what is expected of him, he comes back with statements like:

"I didn't understand what you were saying. I thought you meant …"

"I forgot."

"I didn't hear you."

"You didn't say that."

The solid ground you thought you were standing on starts to shift, and as a parent you wind up thinking, Was I unclear? What did I tell him, anyway?

The first step in solving this problem is to write things down. When our six children were still at home, I (Barbara) really couldn't remember everything I said. When you're giving directions to so many, you do forget. I didn't write down everything, but I did start a section in my notebook where I recorded penalties, disciplines, and rules on the issues that are very important.

All chores, for example, were written out and posted in the kitchen. I spell out what a clean kitchen looks like. This prevents our children from taking advantage of any fuzziness in our directions.

After establishing that foundation, challenge your teens when you think they are not being truthful: "Now, I know you heard me" or "I think you selectively chose not to hear me. And I want you to know that's a lie; that's not the truth." Discipline may be appropriate. You may also want to warn them that persisting in this behavior will lead to bad consequences in the future: "When you are an adult, you can pretend not to hear, but it will get you fired from a job."

Disciplining deceit

So what happens if you catch your child red-handed in a lie?

Let's say your daughter spent the night with a friend and told you the next day that they watched a clean family movie. Then you learn that the movie was anything but clean and that she knew it all along.

After uncovering the lie, one of your assets as a parent is to delay punishment—not too long, but long enough to let the child's imagination run a bit wild. Take a few hours or even wait overnight. Set your game plan. Stick your heads together and pray over your options.

When you meet with your child, first find out why he felt the need to lie to you. Is there something amiss in your relationship? Does he feel overly restricted?

Don't let your child rationalize the deceit. He may try to take the offense back into that gray area.

Then, choose a consequence that involves restricting something your child loves to do. On one occasion, we disciplined one of our boys by telling him he couldn't be part of his baseball team for a game; he had to sit on the sidelines and watch, and he was their top pitcher. That was a memorable punishment for him. For our girls, grounding them from the phone, their favorite source of social interaction, was a painful penalty. We eventually added e-mail to the list of privileges to remove as a discipline.

Your discipline needs to match the level of deceit. If it really has been a crafty deceit, perhaps a con job perpetrated over a long period of time, the discipline needs to be more severe. It needs to imprint the lesson on your teen's character.

Finally, let your child know that he will need to earn back your trust. When you deceive another person, it takes time for that relationship to be healed and for trust to be reestablished.

For the single parent

Being single-handed as a parent means that you need an even better network of spies and eyes looking out for the best interests of your child. Prayerfully consider a number of parents who have children the same age as yours and commission them to help you catch your child doing things right or wrong.

Ask these friends to occasionally step into your child's life to just see how he is doing. And if your child is going through a period where he or she is being deceptive, you might want to consider using these friends to intervene in your child's life, to confront and rescue him or her from the trap of deception. Ask them to join you in praying and fasting for you and your child.

Adapted from Parenting Today's Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 



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