Most teens lie to their parents at some point about something. This usually comes from a growing desire for freedom or an attempt to avoid getting into trouble. However, studies have shown that parents generally have a hard time determining when their children lie. Deducing if your teen is lying is the first step in correcting this problem behavior and restoring trust between you.
Part 1 of 3: Addressing Your Child's Lies
Step 1. Let your child know that you have caught him lying
If you have caught your child in a lie, you will need to address it and the underlying behavior (what they lied about). However, it is imperative that you do it as carefully as possible. Otherwise, your child will simply be annoyed with you and will be less likely to communicate about other things.
- Don't act triumphant or pleased by catching your child in a lie. Your child's safety should be your top priority.
- Express things as facts. Be direct and open without being aggressive.
- Say something like "I want to talk to you about something. You told me _____ the other day but I know you were lying. I talked to _____ and she told me that what you said was not true."
- Ask your child directly why he felt the need to lie to you.
Step 2. Stay in control of your emotions
It's incredibly important that you don't lose your patience when dealing with your child's lies. The situation is already difficult and getting angry will only make the situation worse.
- If you stay calm, your child is more likely to continue to have a conversation with you. However, if you yell, your child may just walk away angry.
- It's okay to be upset, but don't take it out on your child. This will only make a bad situation worse.
- Calm down before talking to your child when you find out that he has lied to you.
- Take a deep breath, try to count to 10, go for a walk, or make a cup of tea or coffee before sitting down to talk to your child.
- Say something like "Go wait in your room. I'll be upstairs soon and we'll talk about what happened."
- Try to stay calm when talking to him. Your child is likely to get upset, so you'll need to be the more assertive and rational of the two in this conversation.
Step 3. Convey your disapproval
Start by letting your child know that his lies have hurt you and weakened your confidence. This does not mean trying to make him feel guilty but you should let him know that his lies affect you and have a negative impact on his father-son relationship.
- Don't call your child a "liar" or label him or her as being untrustworthy. However, you should let him know that lying weakens your ability to trust him.
- Use your moment of disapproval as an opportunity to teach your child a lesson.
- Try to focus on your child's risky behavior rather than lying.
- Talk about what happened and why your child made the decisions that he did. Try to get to the reasons behind the lie so that you can better understand your child's behavior.
- Ask what your child can do differently next time (both to avoid the situation he lied about and to avoid lying to you).
Step 4. Encourage more open communication in the future
The best way to avoid future lies is to make your child feel like you are approachable. If your child feels like they can come to you with problems or to confess bad behavior without yelling or punishing them, this can make them more likely to trust you (and, by extension, you can trust them too).
- Remember that correcting the habit of lying is a process, not something that can be solved with a simple solution. Your child needs to feel like he can be honest and open with you, which can take time.
- Let your child know that you love him and that you don't expect him to be perfect.
- Tell him that he is less likely to get in trouble by coming to you with the truth than by hiding or lying to you.
- You may want to consider giving your child one last chance to be honest.
- Tell your child that if he is willing to be honest about the situation, you will forgive him this time and delay the punishment.
- Make it clear that next time there will be a strict punishment for lying.
- You should also emphasize that when your child lies to you, it makes it more difficult for you to trust him and grant him freedom or independence.
Step 5. Establish and impose consequences for lying
If your child continues to misbehave and lies about it, they obviously haven't learned a lesson. If this happens, you may need to start enforcing the rules and punishing your child when you discover lies in the future.
- Tell your child what will happen if you detect a lie in the future (punishment, loss of privileges, extra chores, suspension of allowance, etc.) and enforce that consequence if it happens again.
- Never use acts of violence as "punishment." Physically abusing your child is illegal and immoral and will destroy any chance of a healthy relationship.
- Most teens want more freedom (and many lie to get it). By restricting your child's access to freedom, ideally you will teach him that the only way to gain that independence is through honesty and good behavior.
Step 6. Deal with compulsive lies
Most compulsive liars get something out of lies. Often times, this type of behavior is motivated by problems involving self-esteem. If your child is compulsively lying, even in situations where there is no reason to do so (he earns nothing and will avoid any punishment), you may need to intervene.
- Assure your child that you love him.
- Let them know that you are available to talk anytime they feel unhappy or dissatisfied.
- If your child is depressed or has some other reason for compulsive lying, you may want to find a therapist who is qualified to work with teens.
- Ask your child's doctor or pediatrician for a recommendation. The doctor may know someone who specializes in teen depression or compulsive lying.
- You can also search online for teen therapists in your area or use a local database to find a specialist near you.
Step 7. Address lies about risky behavior, such as drug and alcohol use
For many teens, drugs and alcohol are part of a passing phase of experimentation. However, this experimentation is not necessarily harmless. Even low-level drugs like alcohol and marijuana can have serious effects on your child's health, especially since your child is still growing and developing. Casual use can also lead to addiction and can easily tarnish your child's legal record if caught. If your child uses drugs or alcohol, you should have a frank discussion about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and if things don't improve, you may need to enlist the help of a qualified mental health expert.
- Lies about illegal or dangerous behavior have to be addressed directly. Often times, an underlying problem such as depression, anxiety, or self-esteem will cause a teenager to seek narcotics.
- If your child is lying about drugs or alcohol and talking to him hasn't helped, look online or in the phone book for a mental health expert in your area who deals with teens and addiction.
Part 2 of 3: Assess if your child is lying
Step 1. Know what the most frequent lies are
If you're worried about your child telling you the truth, it can help to know the things teens lie about most often. You cannot accuse your child of lying to you about everything, but if you know what your child is most likely to lie to you about, you can prevent future occurrences of such behavior. Some of the more common behaviors teens lie about include:
- his way of spending time
- the things they spend their allowance on
- see friends whose parents don't approve of
- the movies they watch and who they see them with
- the type of clothes they wear outside the house
- alcohol or drug use
- if they have driven under the influence or got into cars with a driver who has been under the influence
- if they go to parties
- if they have adult supervision outside the home
Step 2. Approach the situation with caution
It is difficult to know when your child is lying and any suspicions must be approached very carefully. Being overly suspicious of your child actually makes it statistically less likely that you know what they are lying about. You will be more likely to recognize that your child is lying about something if you are suspicious but you are probably wrong about what they are lying about and why.
- Accusing your child of lying when he is actually telling you the truth can reduce the chances that he will be honest with you in the future.
- Try to evaluate your child's behavior in the context of his previous behavior patterns. If your child gets into trouble (or has a history of it), they may be more likely to lie to you.
- Remember that no teenager lies about everything at all times. You may have your suspicions but you have to recognize that your child is also telling the truth and you have to be fair in your assessment of his honesty.
Step 3. Plan ways to check if your child is lying
Some parents may not feel comfortable trying to catch their children in a lie. However, if you are suspicious and want to stop it, it may be worth considering confirming what your child has told you. This can help establish a baseline for their behavior so that you know what to expect next.
- If your child claims to have spent the day at a friend's house, call that friend's parents and confirm that this is true.
- You may want to try testing your child to see if he is telling the truth. Remember what your child says and ask follow-up questions later to see if he sticks to the same story he told you before.
- That said, it's important to recognize that trying to "catch" your child in a lie will only discourage open and honest communication with you.
- Resist the urge to spy on your child or search their belongings. This can damage their confidence in you and hinder their lines of communication.
Step 4. Convey your suspicions
Whether you've caught your child in a lie or simply don't believe their story, you should express it to your child as calmly and directly as possible. Don't bother and don't accuse your child of lying to you. Instead, start a conversation about what your child has told you.
- Don't question your son. This will only increase the chances that he will lie to you again.
- Let him know that you don't quite believe the story he is telling you.
- Give your child an escape. He might be more willing to tell the truth if you offer him some kind of immunity from punishment.
- You can say something like, "We are reasonably sure you are not telling us the truth. Are you sure you want to stick to your side of the story, or is there something else you want to tell us?"
Part 3 of 3: Avoid Lies in the Future
Step 1. Set a good example by being honest
Many adults lie to other adults for the same basic reasons your child might lie to you: to avoid getting into trouble or to be able to continue doing things they know they shouldn't do. Lying to others while punishing your child for lying to you sets a bad example and makes you appear hypocritical. Instead of lying to cover your back, be open and honest about your actions and your motivations. Then show your child that things turned out much better for you by being honest about the situation.
- Avoid telling so-called "white lies".
- Don't lie to your boss if you are late for work. Apologize for being late and start leaving the house a little earlier so it doesn't happen again.
- Resist the urge to hide information from your partner. Be honest and show your child how much better your relationship is because of this honesty.
- Be honest if your child asks you tough questions. Instead of lying about your previous bad behavior, tell the truth and admit it was a mistake.
Step 2. Spend more time with your child
Many teens who habitually lie to their parents have a hard time seeing their own intrinsic worth. A good way to avoid future lies is by spending as much time as you can with your child and letting him know that you see enormous potential in him. Spending time together helps you know what's going on in your child's life and makes him feel like you are approachable if he needs to talk. It also shows that you care about your child and want the best for him.
- Ideally, you should aim to spend time with your child every day.
- Establish an honest dialogue by talking about your day and asking your child about his.
- You can try spending time together doing something that your child enjoys. You can play video games together, go for a walk in the woods, or some other activity that makes your child happy.
Step 3. Promote honest and open communication
When spending time with your child, convey the importance of honesty and communication. You don't have to say it explicitly, but you should make him feel that trust between you helps you know that your child is safe and will make the right decisions.
- Remind your child that you will trust him more if he is honest and trustworthy. Let them know that lies make it difficult for them to trust each other.
- Don't punish your child if he comes to you for advice about a difficult situation. Doing so will only make her less likely to come to you when she needs help in the future.
Step 4. Teach your child to solve problems and make good decisions
If your child learns to make smart, healthy choices, there is less chance that he will have to lie to you about doing something wrong. Adolescents have a greater capacity for independence when they can identify emotions, exhibit some sense of self-control, deal with unpleasant emotions, and make informed decisions to solve their own problems.
- Many teens lie to cover up behavior they know is wrong. If you can eliminate such bad behavior, you should be able to trust your child more and more.
- Promote open dialogue. Let your child know that they can come to you for advice and offer helpful feedback without judgment.
- Talk to your child about how to assess a situation and make the right decision.
- You should also talk to your child about dealing with unpleasant feelings in healthy and productive ways.
Step 5. You must be willing to compromise
Teenagers usually want increasing amounts of freedom. They are approaching adulthood and want the independence to make their own decisions without having to ask permission. While you should still monitor your child's behavior, you may need to give him a little more latitude if it means that he will be more honest with you.
- If you're willing to compromise on things like when to come home, which friends he can hang out with, or where he can go, your child will be less likely to feel the need to lie.
- Making concessions does not mean succumbing to all of your child's demands, nor does it mean being reluctant to listen to their requests.
- Sit down with your child and come up with a give and take solution. For example, if your child has to come home at 9:00 p.m. and wants to stay out until midnight, please make a concession for 10:30 or 11:00 p.m.
- You must be willing to make exceptions under certain conditions. For example, if your child wants to go to a concert that will end after the time he is due to return home, let him go but offer to accompany or take him.
- By making concessions and simultaneously establishing some kind of presence in your child's activities (as in the concert example), you can avoid your child's need to lie about where he is, what time he will come home, and how he will do it.
Step 6. Let your child's behavior determine his freedom
It is important to emphasize to your child that the decisions he makes will determine how much freedom and independence you give him. This can make it feel less like punishment as your child will understand that you are only reacting to their behavior.
- Give your child the independence he wants but make it clear that a breach of your trust will affect that level of freedom.
- Remind your child that independence in adulthood comes at a high price. You can only keep her as an adult if you follow certain social rules and laws, just as your child should follow your rules at home.
- This leaves the ball in your child's court, so to speak. If your child wants to maintain that independence or acquire new freedoms, he must prove that he is trustworthy.
- Reward your child with more independence as he shows honesty and trustworthiness. You can try extending the time when he must come home or giving him an extra allowance, for example.
- Restrict your child's freedom when caught lying. Remind your child that you made it clear that lies will result in a reduction in freedom and enforce the rules.
- Open and honest communication and good decision-making skills are the best ways to keep your child from having to lie to you.
- Set a good example and be as honest as you expect your child to be.
- One possible reason for teens to lie may be feeling overwhelmed by excessive demands, which often disorients and confuses them. Therefore, try to avoid overstressing things (for example, requiring them to get only excellent appreciation grades in school, they must do that themselves).
- Realize the difference between lying and being reserved. Just because your child isn't comfortable telling you certain normal things doesn't mean he's lying.
- Don't become a strict and overprotective parent to prevent your child from hiding things from you. This will not be successful.
- Never impose things on him by force. This will foster resentment and consequently you will resort to worse lies to avoid the issue.