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What to Do When Your Teen Goes Behind Your Back

by Mark Gregston

Teens will do things behind your back.  Whether it’s hiding friends from you that they think you won’t approve of, having social media accounts you don’t know about, or more concerning things like attending underage parties or smoking pot, every teen hides something from their parents at some point.  But as a parent, it’s your job to keep an eye out and make sure that you’re not shirking your responsibilities when it comes to your teens, and also, that you’re not unwittingly giving them the opportunity to sneak around.

Now, keeping an eye on them doesn’t mean that you need to become a private investigator and question their every motive or move they make.  In doing that, you’d be setting yourself up to destroy your relationship with them.  But you do want to make sure you’re understanding their need to experiment with the world around them. 

Recognize the Lies 

The more you know your teen, the better equipped you’ll be at spotting when they’re not exactly being on the up and up.  It’s like that analogy of the FBI and counterfeit money.  The FBI spends an enormous amount of time with the real stuff, so when a fake comes through, they’ll be able to spot it right away with ease.  It’s the same with you and your child.  Be a study of your teen.  When you spend regular time with them, you’ll get to know their friends, their habits, and what makes your teen and their friends tick.  You’ll also get an understanding of what your teen thinks about the world around them.  By engaging your teen, you’ll be showing that you’re interested in having a relationship with them.  You’ll also get an opportunity to dialogue with your kids about what they think about friends, school, social media, sex and drugs, and if they’re lying about something, you’ll know.  When a person lies, they have to remember the lie, so if they’re not being consistent, you’ll recognize it right away. 

What to Do When You Discover the Lies 

When someone lies, there’s usually a reason, so don’t just confront the behavior, ask questions to determine what’s in your child’s heart.  With that said, if going behind your back is putting your child’s life in danger, or it’s putting someone else’s life in danger, you must ACT NOW.  You cannot wait. 

If there’s no physical danger to your teen or to anyone else, then you should think before you confront your teen.  What are you most upset about?  In taking some time to look introspectively, it will help you respond to your teen’s behavior—not just reacting to what’s been done. 

Then you need to forgive—even when it’s difficult, because this is what’s needed in order to rebuild trust.  Agree to make a fresh start and stick to it, and then determine an appropriate consequence for the lie.  Try and make it practical, and even have your teen weigh in on what the punishment should be and what the boundaries should be.  Explain that boundaries are needed to help your teen do what’s right, and when you move in this way—relationally, you’re creating a bond with your child, even when they’re suffering the consequences of lying to you. 

And finally, if your teen is cultivating a lifestyle of lying, you may need to get help from outside the family.  A counselor can be effective in helping your child work through their thinking. 


Moms and Dads … there’s a great tendency that your teens will find themselves doing things they don’t want to do, and not doing the things they really want to do.  It’s called adolescence.  They’ll do things you don’t want them to do, they’ll make mistakes, violate your rules, sneak around behind your back, and not listen to your sage advice—no matter how great it might be.  They do this because they’re teens in pursuit of independence, gaining control, and learning to make decisions.  Keep asking questions, and don’t try to convince yourself that that your teen will never make a mistake—they will!  But understanding your role to provide grace and truth in your parenting will draw you two closer together—even when they go behind your back. 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.