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The Honest Truth About Teen Dishonesty

Always tell the truth.  If you can’t always tell the truth, don’t lie. –Author Unknown

Have you ever told a little white lie?  Ever crossed your fingers behind your back when you did it?  One of the legends regarding that little act originated with Roman persecution of Christians. It was said that to escape death, those who lied about their faith in Christ, just as Peter did, made the sign of the cross behind their back to ask God’s forgiveness.  It seems that somehow, sign language would nullify the deceit!

The legend of crossing your fingers seems like a myth to me.  But what is not a myth is the fact that many teenagers today are making a habit of “crossing their fingers behind their backs.”  A recent Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, shows that 61% of teens admit to lying to a teacher about something important, and a whopping 76% admitted to lying to their parents last year.  Another study, this one conducted in Britain, indicates that an overwhelming 84% of teens said they’ve regularly copied information from the Internet and pasted it right into their homework.

But it wasn’t necessarily those numbers that shocked me.  What really rocked me back on my heels was that this recent study of American teenagers reported that while over 50% of teenagers admitted lying, cheating, or stealing within that last year, 93% of those same kids said they are “satisfied with their personal ethics and character.” In addition, 81% of those teenagers said that “when it comes to doing what’s right, they are better than most people they know.”

It would seem, sadly, that while dishonesty is taking a hold of more and more teenagers, they are blind to the fact that it is morally wrong. While it is in no way an excuse, we cannot overlook the way our culture glorifies all forms of dishonesty. I think we’d all be hard-pressed to name five unimpeachably honest public figures today.  Who hasn’t turned on the TV or read the news in which a politician, business leader, sports figure, police officer, teacher or even a judge — those people we look up to as role models — has been caught in a lie, or has had a scandal exposed?  And let’s not forget the explosion of popular, so-called, “reality” TV shows, whose strategy is usually based on deception and lying in order to gain a monetary prize or fame.  While we should stress to our kids that we are all accountable for our own decisions, it’s difficult to reinforce the standards of honesty in a society that seems to broadcast that dishonesty is the far better road to travel.

So how can we reverse those statistics, and help our kids embrace truth over the lies?

Monitor the Media

Due to its anonymity and ease, the Internet is often a place where dishonesty abounds.  Within the safety of the web, teens can speak or act out anything they desire, regardless if it’s the truth.  Parents should be realize that such web-based deception can spill over and fuel an attitude of dishonesty in other areas of a teen’s life, as well.

When it comes to the Internet, or other forms of media, I tell parents to follow their instincts. Even if there is no obvious cause for concern, they should keep a wary eye on their child’s online surfing and make it a policy to know all of their teenager’s web passwords.  In fact, I recommend parents install good monitoring software to track all of their teen’s Internet activity.  Knowing that mom and dad are monitoring will go a long way toward keeping the teen honest in what they see, do and say on the Internet.

Make it a point to discuss with your teen the values they see in movies, television, or music.  Though we cannot control all the input that our kids receive on a daily basis, we can use media opportunities to have discussions about life, morality and values.  After watching a television program or movie, ask your child afterward, Why did that character act that way?  What do you think they were trying to gain?  Do you think they will ultimately achieve something by acting dishonestly?  What would you do differently? These types of questions can steer your child into interpreting what they see and hear in more honest ways.

Reduce the Pressure to Perform

Lofty academic expectations can put a lot of pressure on a teen to cheat. Holding kids to unnecessarily high achievement standards can often spur kids to achieve good grades at any cost. These looming stresses at school are more troubling for kids than many parents realize.  In fact, the Journal of Adolescent Health found that the stress to perform well in school keeps 68% of students awake at night.  With a lack of sleep, students have a reduced ability to think clearly and handle stress, so it becomes a vicious cycle.  As they fall farther behind, overwhelmed students may be tempted to cheat and lie their way to academic success.

If your child has been caught cheating at school, perhaps it’s time to bring the expectations down to a serviceable level for your teen.  Of course, we want our kids to do well in school, but we’d all agree that we want them to do so honestly.  It’s far better to have “C” student who came by their grades fairly, than an “A” student who was compelled to cheat because of unrealistic pressure at home.  By your words and actions, tell your children that grades and academic achievement don’t matter as much as honesty.

Don’t Avoid or Ignore the Problem

While dishonesty may seem like a minor issue in comparison to other problems like drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and eating disorders, it is a vice that parents should not ignore. Dishonesty is rooted in an attitude of disrespect—disrespect for others, authority, possessions, family’s values, and disrespect for oneself.  If you ignore your teen’s dishonest actions today, you may have to deal with bigger problems later.  Deceit won’t go away with the mere passage of time.  It will reappear at significant stress points later in your child’s life—when they go off to college, get a job, or get married.  Getting away with lying, cheating or theft today can lead to a lifetime of dishonesty, and that can land them in real heartache in the future.

If you’ve seen dishonesty creeping into how your teen talks or acts, or if you’ve learned they have cheated or stolen something, today is the day to expose it.  Here’s how to deal with the problem properly.  First, briefly describe the dishonest behavior, so you both know what happened.  Second, tell your child how you feel about it and how it that action is neither wise nor moral.  Then, most importantly, affirm that you know they can do better.  Let your teen know that you believe they can change their behavior.  Give them the confidence to do what’s right.  After your discussion, have your teen right their wrong, including confessing to whomever was wronged from the dishonesty, cheating or theft.  Finally, enforce appropriate consequences and make sure they know that you will be on the lookout for any form of dishonesty in the future.

Also, be sure to model honesty yourself, and make it a habit to be truthful.  If you think you’ve hidden dishonesty from them in the past, think again. Teens are extremely intuitive and they can spot hypocrisy a mile away.  If you know you’ve been dishonest in front of your teen, ask their forgiveness, and give yourself some consequences for the bad behavior, so your teen knows how important it is to be honest.  Teens need some good role models in regard to honesty.  Live out Proverbs 8:7, and your teen will follow suit; I always speak the truth and refuse to tell a lie. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Is Your Teen Driving You Crazy?

There is much in the news these days about cars accelerating out of control, leaving the driver and passengers helpless to know how to slow down or stop their runaway vehicle.  That’s kind of what it is like in a family with a teenager who is out of control. The whole family gets swept along for the not so joyful ride.

Is your family experiencing a frightening ride with an out of control teenager? Are you at a loss to know what to do, or don’t know how to react when your teen’s behavior makes every wrong turn and is accelerating toward disaster?

Typical adolescent behavior includes moodiness, hyper-sensitivity and irrational thinking — no cause for much alarm.  But there are other behaviors that are warning signs of a bigger problem than you may realize. These attitudes and behaviors are often triggered by a child’s feeling of being disrespected or abandoned in some way at some point in their life, and the level at which those feelings impact their actions, relationships and decisions in the teen years becomes abnormal.

Do you understand the difference between normal and abnormal teenager behavior? If not, here’s a handy tool we’ve developed to describe the behaviors that may mean that there is more going on than the normal bumps of adolescence:

BEHAVIORAL WARNING SIGNS

Instructions: Enter how often the behavior is experienced: 0=Never  1=Sometimes  2=Frequently  3=All the Time

[___] Your teen refuses to abide by anything you say or request. These behaviors may put your teen or your family in danger or high risk, and lead to constant fear or stress in the home.

[___] Your teen displays behavior that is a marked change from what has been normal for them in the past (slipping grades, sleeping too little or too long, forgetfulness, lack of motivation, aggression, depression, anxiety, hating what they once loved or loving what they once hated, always wanting to be with friends away from home, or avoiding friends altogether and spending too much time alone).

[___] Your teen is increasingly disrespectful and dishonest and no longer veils his or her feelings nor cares about the consequences of misbehavior. Seemingly a loss of a conscience or moral compass.

[___] There is a blatant ignorance or profound rebellion toward the boundaries and rules of your home. This can be shown in passive aggressiveness or open defiance that is unusually excessive for your teen.

[___] Outright or veiled threats of suicide; participation in self-mutilation or eating disorders or cutting (Important: Get immediate professional help!)

[___] Excessive risk-taking, running away, dangerous drug or alcohol use (confirmed by drug tests); blatant sexual promiscuity, or same-sex relationships.

[___] Threatening or out-of-control treatment against people, pets, or belongings, or your teen exhibits a vengeful spirit and destroys things to “pay back” a perceived mistreatment by others. Disrespect for all forms of authority.

[___] Your teen thinks he or she is the center of your family, while at the same time showing a growing hatred for the family, evidenced by a blatant disregard for their feelings, time and possessions.  Demands for money or outright theft of money or family possessions, or using things without permission and then claiming they were lost.

[___] You cannot keep your teen away from peers who are obviously leading a lifestyle counter to your beliefs, and your teen is buying into their destructive behavior and attitudes.

SCORE:  ________(total of the numbers you entered)

If the score is 15 or more, there is probably more going on in your teen’s life than you can handle on your own or through the normal tools of parenting.  Your child needs some professional help, and things have escalated to the point that it could even mean that your child needs to be treated for a time away from your home, at a therapeutic facility like our Heartlight program.

If the score is less than 15, it doesn’t mean that you are off the hook.  Things can escalate quickly and the errant behaviors will expand to other areas; so if you’ve written a “2” or “3” next to any of these warning signs, you need to work hard to do to get that particular area under control before it spreads.

Keep in mind that misbehavior in teenagers is usually nothing more than a flag they are waving high in the air to tell the adults in their life that something is wrong. Their actions are likely being sparked by something in their past, like: abuse, a split in the home, a death of a loved one, a mental illness, or a chemical or hormonal imbalance. They could also be the result of hidden substance abuse, excessive feelings of guilt, or bullying by peers. Sometimes the causes are so tragic and personal that a child would never think of telling anyone about them, but they bubble or explode to the surface through their actions instead. Or, they may not even know why they are acting the way they are.  In those cases, it is best to get a professional counselor involved, who can deal with these issues privately and skillfully.

Other Signs

Some teens act out their issues and stresses in less apparent ways, but these are warning signs as well. Those include: frequent sadness, crying for no reason, withdrawal from friends and activities, refusal to eat or over-eating, sleeping too much, feelings of hopelessness, loss of energy, talk of death, suicide or ending it all are all signs of depression. A depressed teen may not be making a fuss in the family, but the issues and outcomes can be just as serious.

Another type of warning sign is your own feelings.  Pay attention to them.  If you’ve caught yourself thinking: “Our family cannot live like this any longer,” or “I can’t put a finger on it, but something is wrong with that kid,” or “I can’t sit by and watch him destroy himself,” then you already know that something needs to change.  And if you have the feeling that something is going on that you just can’t put your finger on, you’d be wise to put on your detective hat and get to the bottom of it, because your gut feeling is probably right.  You may be able to stop the problem well before it gets out of control.

Take Action

So, are you ready to put the brakes on the joy-less ride your teen has you on?  You’re in charge, even when it seems your teen is “hogging the road.”  It’s up to you to take notice and take appropriate action when your teenager appears to either be accelerating out of control, or spiraling downward with anxiety or depression. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Being sensitive to them can prevent more serious and potentially lifelong dangers.

Sadly, every day, I meet good kids from great families with wonderful parents who are dismayed by their teen’s journey down the wrong road.  The stress of it has torn their family and even their marriage apart in the process.  I trust you will not allow things to get that far before you deal with the problem, or seek the right kind of help, if that is needed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


The Teen Spin Cycle

There is nothing worse than living with a teen spinning out of control, and no worse feeling than the hopelessness parents experience in the process. It is difficult to know what to do and how to react when your teen daily reaches new lows in disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect, and chooses every wrong thing.

Your teen is caught in what I call, “The Spin Cycle,” and he or she needs you to intervene. The downward spiral can have tremendous destructive potential with lifelong consequences, or even bring a young life to a quick end. When teens spin out of control, they need a responsible adult to respond, even if they do everything they can to keep you out of it. In fact, you must! You cannot ignore or overlook inappropriate behavior, or simply do nothing.

If you’re caught in that cycle with your teen, then my advice is to act now.  Don’t wait and don’t ignore the evidence that your teen is spinning out of control.  Act today based on what you know is true – your faith, your own beliefs, and what you know is best for your child. And, by the way, I’d like to help you as well!

So, Where Do You Begin?

You can start with a simple truth and consequences message, “Honey, we’re not going to live like this anymore.” Or, ” I will no longer stand by and watch you destroy yourself, we’re going to address what’s going on, get some help, and get through this together.” Make the message clear, “The negative behavior we’re seeing will no longer be allowed or tolerated in our home, and if it doesn’t stop, you will not be able to live here.”

The point is not to kick them out so you don’t have to worry about them anymore (neither can you if they are underage), but you can use the threat of losing the comfort of your home as a tool to get them thinking about the consequences of continued inappropriate behavior.  There are many programs and schools designed to deal with struggling teens and keep them safe, like our Heartlight residential program in Texas. If you need help with finding such a program, simply give me a call and I’ll help you find the right program. Fact is, just having a boarding school, boot camp, military school or wilderness therapy program materials on the counter for your teen to see may be enough to get them to sit up and take notice that you are serious about making a change.

Don’t expect your teen to like the fact that you are calling a halt to their inappropriate behavior. They probably won’t appreciate your attempts to deal with their bad behavior. Their first response will most likely be anger or resentment. But the time your child may spend hating you is short, and compared to the entirety of a life, it’s just a blip on their radar. Secretly, he or she may feel relieved and thankful you cared enough to intervene, giving them a good excuse to say “No” to their peers when asked to participate in the wrong things.

Usually, a teen figures out that life will be much easier if they change their behavior so they can stay at home and work things out with their parents, but not always and not always right away.

Then What?

Once you start down the path of responsible parenting, don’t stop, and don’t be pulled down to their level with childish fighting. Stay calm and focused on what you want for them and deal with the heart of the issue. Give them permission to struggle with things knowing that your love for them will never change. But set the limits and boundaries you know he or she needs, and above all be firm.

Don’t

Don’t – Act out of anger – remember Ephesians 4:26 – “be angry, but do not sin.”

Don’t – Get physical – if tempers flare and voices are raised, take a break, keep it cool.

Don’t – Ignore what is happening in hopes it will just go away, it won’t.

Don’t – Build monuments to your grief, or park yourself in the valley.

Don’t – Give in when you know you should stand your ground.

Do

Do – Put your hope in your faith and act on the truth.

Do – Understand that God is teaching both you and your teen during this time.

Do – Seek help from qualified professionals and connect with support outside your family.

Do – Handle yourself in a manner that keeps your relationship with your teen alive, as it may determine the kind of relationship you’ll have 10 years from now.

Do – Change your own bad habits when it’s obviously your fault.

There’s never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle. It can be very difficult, but keep in mind that more parents of teens are going through the same thing with their own teenager.  Seek them out and find a place where you can share your feelings and gain strength and support from each other.  The struggle may seem endless, and you may feel hopeless at times, but the time to act is now, and it may very well save your teen’s life.  Doing nothing is not an option for a caring parent.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.