This is a contributed post from Carol Moore, author of the book Bridges Not Barriers: The Art of Building a Better Connection with Your Teen
“Why would my teen lie to me? I mean, I have told them over and over that they can come to me and tell me anything and that I only want what’s best for them. So, why lie?”
I think that likely every parent has spoken these or similar words to their teens and tweens at some point. After all, we really do want to know what they are up to!
During these transitional years, we are scrambling for ways to keep them safe, and if we can get them to fess up to what they are doing, then maybe we have a fighting chance.
Or do we?
Why do teens lie more than any other age group?
I lied to my parents as a teenager. I’m pretty sure you did too, along with all teens since the beginning of time, but why?
There are many reasons why adolescents turn to lying to deal with other people, including:
- To get out of trouble
- To do something they’re not allowed to, or that is dangerous
- Because they believe their parents’ rules are unfair
- They think what they want to do is harmless
- As a way to protect others’ feelings
- Maintaining privacy
- To establish their independence and autonomy.
Five Reasons Parents Unintentionally Create An Environment for Teens to Lie
I believe that there are five reasons hiding in plain sight that can help explain why we, as their parents, actually create an environment of rich soil that grows the ugly fruit of lying.
1. We come unglued. We hear about something our teen is doing that somehow goes against what we had hoped or expected for them, and we lead with our feelings.
“What do you mean you were drinking? You are only seventeen! This is illegal, and unsafe, and unhealthy, and….”
Or, “You didn’t turn in your final project for AP History? Do you know what
this is going to do for your chances of getting into college?!”
Our teens will not be truthful about the tough stuff if we are unable to regulate our own emotions. Our actions—our reactions have shown them that the truth is not safe to share with us.
2. We lecture. While our teens don’t know everything about everything as
they might profess they do, they do have a pretty good gauge for right and wrong.
This, however, doesn’t mean they will always choose what is right.
This is the age of testing and experimenting their limits and boundaries. It is the time for discovering who they are and what they contribute, and this “discovering” requires sometimes living outside of the lines so to speak. Because we love them so much, we want to jump in and coax them back inside the lines with lots and lots of explaining—to keep them safe. But our teens don’t always want our opinion about the choices they make as they are finding their way. They want and need to make their own mistakes.
3. We take. As our tweens turn into teens, they begin to gain all kinds of new freedoms and “luxuries” such as phones, car keys, and extended periods away from home with friends.
And, while we kindly offer these things to our teens, somewhere in the back of our
minds, we are still holding these high-value items at ransom. We secretly know that they give us leverage and power over our kids. When a rule is broken or we catch our teen in the tangled web of a lie, one of our first responses is to take—take the phone, the keys, the friends.
And, we only have to do this once, and we have now guaranteed that our teens will lie again so they won’t lose the things that they love.
What our teens need instead is for us to give. To give grace, space, and attentive listening.
4. We forbid. Our teens will lie to us about what they did or are doing because they know we won’t allow it. We have already made up our minds that a particular action or behavior is somehow not good, safe, or beneficial to our child, so we simply say “no.”
By doing this, we are disrupting a natural and important process teens need to experience. If we remove all of the obstacles from the path of our teens, they can’t grow any character or grit.
Sure, it is painfully difficult for a parent to watch their child make a mistake that we could easily prevent for them, but they simply have to make them.
If, instead of forbidding, we take the time to teach them how to walk through difficult or dangerous choices, we are creating trust. And when there is trust, there is less of a need to lie.
5. We control. Some (okay, a lot) of the things our teens are doing or going to
do will bring up fear for us.
Our babies are now dating and driving away in cars. They will be exposed to drugs and alcohol and sex. They will take risks, experiment with their appearance, and bump into a few unhealthy friendships.
And all of this scares us!
For the first 10 to 12 years, we didn’t have to worry about any of these things. This fear we have now leads to control because we feel it’s the only thing we have left to hang on to.
But this is not what our teens need from us. What they desperately need is space to grow into who they are becoming. If we can’t let go of control and allow for this space, our teens will feel they have no choice but to lie.
How can parents promote honest communication with their adolescent children?
When we tell our teens that we want them to be able to come to us and tell us anything and that we only want what’s best for them, perhaps we need first to ask ourselves these questions:
Is the way I am responding to my teens’ honesty best for them or best for me?
Have I created an environment that makes lying the safest option? Am I coming unglued, lecturing, taking, forbidding, and controlling what my teen is doing to keep my fears nice and quiet?
And if I am, what if I choose to pause and take a breath before reacting? What if I offer grace first and let go just a bit to allow for trust to develop between myself and my emerging adult?
This is the environment I think we all want to cultivate and the fruit I believe we all want to grow with our teens.
This is a contributed post from Carol Moore, author of Bridges Not Barriers.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting Teens & Tweens is hard. Here are a few other posts parents found helpful.
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