Q&A: Lying and Deceitfulness in Teenagers
The child who is developing more complex thinking abilities now has a better set of tools to use in being deceitful.
How do you deal with the issue of lying and deceitfulness in teenagers?
Dennis: We’ve noticed that many adolescents face a strong temptation toward lying and other types of deception–cheating in school, breaking promises, fudging on the truth. The child who is developing more complex thinking abilities now has a better set of tools to use in being deceitful. Also, teenagers have more freedom and independence than they enjoyed before, which means more opportunity to make choices they might want to hide. Peers also have more direct, unobstructed influence and say things like, “Nobody will ever know” or “You don’t have to tell your parents.”
Why do people lie and deceive? In many cases, they may be attempting to avoid responsibility for their mistakes or misjudgments. Or they may be attempting to manipulate others to do what they want them to. Or they may be desperately trying to stay in control of their lives. A child may steal money and then lie about it to his parents because he wants to avoid punishment. Or he may cheat on a test to avoid the consequences of not studying properly.
One reason lying is an affront to God is that it displays a lack of trust in Him. Your child must be taught that it’s better to tell the truth and trust in God’s control of his life.
Barbara: Often, a child will take advantage of you in any way he can to get you 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 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 them, anyway?
The first step in solving this problem is to write things down. With six children, I really can’t remember everything I say. When you’re giving directions to so many, you do forget. I don’t write down everything, but I have started a section in my notebook where I record penalties, disciplines, and rules on the issues that are very important.
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.”
Dennis: When you catch your child red-handed in a lie, one of the first things to learn is why he or she 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. That was a memorable punishment for him. For our girls, grounding them from the phone was a painful activity. You may need to restrict access to texting, or Facebook.
Your discipline needs to match the level of deceit. 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.
As we all know too well, it’s often not easy to live lives unmarred by deceit. Our children feel the same way. So when they do make the right choices—like admitting a mistake or telling the truth when it might get them in trouble—make sure you let them know what a great thing they have done.
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