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When Your Teen Lies… Like a Rug

Have you noticed that you never have to teach a toddler how to lie? A baby could have chocolate smeared all over her face and crumbs all over her clothes, but when you ask, “Did you eat that cookie?” your precious two-year-old will put on a bold-face and tell you, “No, I didn’t!” But it’s not just babies. All of us can recall times when we’ve lied, fibbed, stretched the truth, or omitted incriminating facts. From the moment we learned how to talk, all of us innately know to be dishonest. Some psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that lying is just a phase that most children will abandon as they mature. But the truth is (pun intended) that lying is not a phase we grow out of, but a habit that we grow into.

In fact, a recent survey revealed that 96% of teens lie regularly. The Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth 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.

It’s safe to say that if you’re the parent of a pre-teen or a teen, dishonesty is likely an issue in your family. Maybe it’s a growing issue. Perhaps your son and daughter are lying so much, you’re having a problem trusting them at all. But whether your child is telling little white lies, or is habitual lying, there are ways to help your child speak the truth.

Why Lie?

Before we start pointing fingers, it’s helpful to understand why our teen may be resorting to dishonest behavior. Most lying is a short-term solution for protecting relationships. Fearful of being unloved or disliked by parents, teachers or peers, teens will resort to lying. What if my parents knew I wasn’t a good student? What if they knew I smoked weed? How could they love me if they knew what I did?” Most lying doesn’t occur because a child is bad and deliberately wants to deceive you. Instead, teens lie because they care about what you think about them. They are scared about losing your love, care or attention. Now, this is not an excuse for dishonesty. But it helps us to approach our kids with grace when we catch them lying.

Create an Environment of Truth

If your teen has told you that they were scared to tell the truth, it’s time to reshape your home to be a place where truth is encouraged. Make honesty a family value—one that everyone is held to (including mom and dad). When your teen is brave enough to come clean, applaud and commend them for telling the truth. Begin each of those hard conversations with “I am so glad you told me the truth.” Reinforce the notion that lying may be a short-term solution, but it damages long-term relationships. Explain to your kids how deceit breaks trust—the trust that strong relationships are built on. It’s better to tell the truth and deal with the consequences, than to lie and risk the relationship altogether. Above and beyond all those messages, reiterate to your children what you’ll often hear from me—“There’s nothing you could do to make me love you more, and there’s nothing you could do to make me love you less.” A reassurance of your unconditional love will create an environment that allows your teen to tell the truth without fear of losing mom and dad’s affection or love.

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 still a vice that parents should not ignore. If you gloss over your teen’s dishonest actions today, you may have to deal with bigger problems later. A tendency towards 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. And a pattern of deceit must be seriously addressed with love. Getting away with lying can lead your teen to experience real heartache in the future.

If you’ve seen dishonesty creeping into the way your teen talks or acts, or if you learn they have cheated or stolen something, today is the day to expose it. First, briefly describe the dishonest behavior, showing that you know what happened. Second, tell your teen how you feel about their behavior and explain why this 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 the wrong by confessing to whomever was harmed by the dishonesty or cheating, reimbursing for any theft or damages. Finally, enforce appropriate consequences and make sure your teen knows that you will be on the lookout for any form of dishonesty in the future. Holding your teen accountable is key to their growth and change.

Give Them Time to Tell the Truth

Lying is often an initial, knee-jerk response. So if your teen is struggling with lying, give them time to tell the truth. It works like this—when you confront your child with the discovery of an issue, follow up by saying, “You don’t have to answer right now. Why don’t you think about it, and get back to me tomorrow.” This takes away your child’s need to dodge the question by lying, and gives a teen time to tell the truth. Plus, you are not pointing the finger and demanding that your teen shamefully ‘fess up on the spot. Rather, you’re allowing your teen to make his or her own decision to tell the truth. This actually empowers your child to make the right choice and gives him or her time to be honest.

Practice Honesty Yourself

Also, be sure to model honesty yourself—make it a habit to be truthful. At a young age, kids think in very black and white terms. They don’t understand the reasons why you wouldn’t tell them the truth, even if you are trying to protect them from something. All they can see is, “Mom or dad lied to me.” So even when it’s difficult or hard, make it a point to be honest with your family at all times. As they get older, 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.

One of my biggest regrets happened earlier in my ministry. Some parents had called me to say that their son, who was to accompany me to a teen rehabilitation center, had run away. So I got in my car, and drove down to a nearby KISS concert, where I found the young man. Trying not to make a scene, I lied, and told him that his parents had been in an accident, and that he needed to come with me. Once in the car, I confessed, and said his parents were okay, and that we’re going to the rehabilitation center instead. It was a lie that this young man had a difficult time forgiving me for. He returned many times to the center, and each time reminded me of my dishonesty. Even many years after the fact, when I got to see him again, he said, “Remember when you lied to me?” Mom and dad, teens who struggle with lying need you to be an honesty role model. 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.


Do Adopted Kids Have More Problems?

You may have heard the news story a few years ago – an adoptive family in Tennessee put their 7-year-old Russian-born boy on an unaccompanied one-way flight back to Russia, explaining that he had terrorized their family since coming to live with them. Now, the world is in an uproar over their seemingly heartless and careless act.

This family’s decision to handle their child like they did is totally unacceptable, I know.  But I also know that adoptions can go haywire.  And I’ve see enough disrupted adoptions, where something just doesn’t go as planned.   Enough that I’m convinced that any parent can be pushed, given the right circumstances, to the same point this family in Tennessee was pushed. My heart goes out to any family caught in the tenuous crisis where they are surprised by behavior presented and not quite prepared to handle the situation.

Adopted kids may or may not have any more problems than any other group of kids, but I think they often present a different “mix” of problems.  And those problems can often be more severe, with behavior escalating to the point where a child is out of control and dangerous to himself and others around him or her.

Approximately one third of the kids that have lived with us at Heartlight… have been adopted, almost 800 kids. The fact that each of those kids live with us for a year, gives me some room to talk about the problems. I understand.

There’s no question that typical adolescent issues like belonging, fitting-in, rejection, connection, acceptance, and peer-relationships can become particularly prominent for some adopted kids.  But there are other factors that can cause just as many problems for the child and the adoptive parents.

Adoption Issues to Be Aware Of

If the adopted child was born out of a high-risk pregnancy, there is higher probability that they were prenatally exposed to alcohol, tobacco and other harmful drugs.  These impediments aren’t always unmanageable, nor are they untreatable.  But just knowing that there might be issues down the road as a result of that exposure might prepare you for dealing with it later on.  Many kids given up for adoption have come from high-risk pregnancies, exposing them to potential for developmental delays, impulsive choices, poor choices, attention deficit, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and emotional disorders. There may be a higher risk as well for issues such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, other attachment issues, learning disabilities, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), logic sequence problems, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder.

Adoptive parents may also have to deal with anger and rages in their adopted child, just as the Tennessee  parents have claimed.  As a result, adopted kids might have to attend a special school, have special teachers, or need tutoring.  All of this can be expensive and may go on for years.  To make matters worse, an adopted child may not hug you or express love or appreciation the way you want.

But There’s Hope in Every Adoption

Am I an expert on adoption?  No, not me.  But I enter the world of adoption “from the other side” because I know and have helped more than 800 adopted teens who have come to live in our Heartlight residential counseling program, and I have listened to the 10,000 questions they brought with them.  My search for answers to those 10,000 questions has led me to my own conclusions about problems that can come up with adopted kids.  Sometimes their struggles may be the result of prenatal issues, but mostly it’s because we’re all people who carry some personal baggage, and we bring our wounded hearts into our relationships.  We all are sinners in need of a Savior… and in need of help.  I am convinced that no problem is too great for God to resolve, and no relationship too damaged for Him to repair.

I believe that God in His sovereignty places orphaned or abandoned children with families on purpose.  And what I have discovered is that conflicts that arise from adoption issues, whether on the side of parents or of the adopted child, can be overcome.  God has a way of taking conflict and using it for our own good, and for deepening the relationship between parent and child.  God doesn’t give up on us, nor does He send us back to where we came from. There are times that I believe that working through the conflict helps everyone involved move toward wholeness, and to deeper relationships.

It is good to understand the issues that surround adoption, for understanding brings a family to a different response, a calmer approach to handling conflict, and a platform to learn new ways for engaging with a child.

So, Why Adopt?

I want people to adopt.  In fact, I sit on the board of an international adoption agency.  But I want adoptive parents to know full well the issues that might come up, invade, or enter the relationship with their child.  Perhaps if the parents in Tennessee had known more about the potential pitfalls, perhaps they would have been better prepared for the potential for struggle.

If you plan to adopt, just remember this; there is more to the portrait of your adopted child’s life than you will be able to see.  You’ll play a very important role in that portrait, and the presence of conflict, disillusionment, or hardship won’t negate the purpose of the portrait.  I believe that most change in a person’s life come through conflict, difficulty, and hardship.  I also believe it is worth the struggle so that kids can live in families.

God bless those who choose to give a child a new home and a new family.  If you are an adoptive family, may your home be a haven of hope for a child who needs you; may God’s beautiful provision for orphans reach down to you as well, and may He give you the strength to work through any future struggles or difficulties.  And, as always, if I can help, please don’t hesitate to call.

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.

 


Signs of Drug Use in Teens and Tweens

If you’ve seen an unexplainable or drastic change in your teenager’s honesty, grades, behavior, attentiveness, or friends, it may not be hormones. It could be that they are experimenting with intoxicating substances that are as close as your kitchen drawer, medicine cabinet or garage.

It used to be that older teens were most susceptible to drug experimentation, but kids today are experimenting earlier and earlier.  In fact, 10- to 14- year-olds are now the most likely to begin experimenting with one intoxicating substance or another.

One fad is a throwback to the 60’s “hippie” culture, marked by an increased popularity, availability and use of marijuana (“pot”), as well as the more seriously addicting 60’s drugs like heroin and LSD (“acid”).  Today’s pot is several times more potent than it was just a few years ago and heroin is even more accessible in some schools today than alcohol.

Illegal drugs get a lot of news coverage, but there are literally thousands of less sinister, but potentially more dangerous, ways for kids to get high, including: potent concoctions of common household glues, solvents and aerosols, prescription pain medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin, or even some of the plants found in your yard. Some kids even get a buzz off of massive doses of certain vitamins.

Most teens think they’re invincible, so their drug history is their badge of courage.  They learn about every source of intoxication from the Internet and then try them one after another.  So, they could be experimenting with huffing aerosol propellants, glues, gasoline, or paint.  Or, they could be crushing cold medications and sniffing them like cocaine or guzzling liquid cold medicines.  They could be taking your prescription drugs or taking nothing at all and just playing the “choking game” to get a temporary high from near asphyxiation.  Still others show their courage by experimenting with the harder drugs like ecstasy, crystal meth, crack, cocaine, LSD, or heroin, which are all highly addictive. For a good overview of popular illegal drugs, look here.

When Does It Start?

When I ask kids in our counseling program the age they started experimenting with drugs or alcohol, they usually report it was in the 7th or 8th grade; and some as early as the 5th grade. Most say they were introduced to drugs or alcohol when staying overnight at a friend’s home or other overnight youth event; or, at their friend’s house after school when their parents weren’t home. Others were introduced to drugs or alcohol when attending parties – usually parties where older teens are present and parents are absent, distracted, or don’t care.

Fact is, parents today who allow their teenagers to stay overnight with friends may be putting their teen in peril. After the parents are asleep, the kids try to outdo each other in regard to how far they will go, armed with the latest vices from the Internet. That’s why I recommend putting a stop to slumber parties at age ten. From then on, the normally innocent agenda of pizza and pillow fights tends to shift to more sinister things these days.

By the time most parents first discover their child is using drugs, the child has usually been involved for several years. But if parents can be diligent in keeping their kids from experimenting with intoxicating substances before age 14, they’ll be less likely to get started at all, so it’s important to be the most vigilant in the critical tween and early teen years.

The Addicted Teen

There’s obviously a difference between experimenting with drugs and being addicted. However, experimenting is no less dangerous, since we hear stories every day of deaths of first-time users.  And some drugs are so addictive, that they can lead to a lifetime addiction with their very first use.

There’s nothing more gut-wrenching for a parent than to deal with their teenager’s drug addiction.  Just watch a few episodes of the show “Intervention” on television and you’ll see what dealing with an addict is like.  It’s a constant nightmare, not just for an addict, but for the entire family.  The lying, stealing, fits of anger, run-ins with the law and constant fear that the child will overdose, can destroy and bankrupt a family. And it won’t get better without treatment and ongoing support, sometimes spanning the addict’s entire life.

Sadly, each year more than a million teenagers need to go into substance abuse treatment programs.  And just like alcoholism, many of them will struggle with that addiction throughout their entire life.  That’s why it’s far better for parents to prevent kids from experimenting with drugs early on, before they get a foothold.

Why Do They Experiment?

Kids are usually motivated to experiment with drugs by curiosity and the need to fit in.  They want to try what their friends are trying, and they have a great need to belong.

Some kids experiment because they are seeking relief from anxiety or emotional pain. In essence they are self-medicating or using drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses they are feeling.  For instance, many kids use marijuana to reduce their anxiety, but medical studies show that the prolonged use of the drug has the opposite effect, leading to heightened anxiety, depression, nervousness, mental disorders, paranoia and panic attacks. While some parents diminish the seriousness of use of marijuana, they should pay attention to what the National Institute on Drug Abuse says are the effects of its prolonged use.  They report it can cause, “…impaired attention, memory problems, diminished learning capacity, interference with the formation of memories and the ability to retain knowledge, a general apathy toward life events, poor coordination, diminished interpersonal skills, and poor judgment.”

Sadly, other kids experiment with drugs to tempt their fate.  Teens with more serious emotional and psychological problems turn to dangerous concoctions or massive doses of drugs as a form of “Russian Roulette.” They reason, “If I die, then so be it.”  Not a week goes by that I don’t receive a message from a parent or grandparent, heartbroken that their teen overdosed and died.

Signs of Drug Use

There are many signs of substance abuse that a parent should watch for, but the only way to know for sure is to take your teenager to get a full-spectrum drug and alcohol test (a test for many types of drugs).  To be sure, have it done professionally by a local lab that processes tests for businesses.  Give your teen little forewarning to prepare for the test, since they can usually find ways on the Internet to falsify the results.

A substance abuse test is warranted if you see any of these signs:

Masking — you notice that they are consuming mega doses of vitamins, teas and herbs in attempt to mask drug use.

Increased lying – not just once or twice, but chronic dishonesty, especially if lying is new for your teen.

Breakdown in normal habits – drastic changes in sleep, appetite, the ability to complete schoolwork, loss of interest in things they once loved, extreme forgetfulness, and marked decrease in hygiene.

An unusual odor on clothes or in the room — frequent use of incense or deodorizers to mask the smell, frequent use of eye drops (to alleviate bloodshot eyes), extended periods locked alone in their room or the bathroom, frequent use of the garage or shed or other vacant buildings.

Change in friends – your teen exchanges healthy friendships for fierce loyalty to questionable people you don’t even know. They may even run away, or disappear with their new friends for long stretches of time.

Stealing or sudden wealth — shoplifting, credit card abuse, valuables disappearing from the home without explanation. Or, you may see unexplained money, jewelry, new clothes, or new gadgets from the selling of drugs (even from selling your prescriptions).

Change in schedule – up all night, or up very late at night, sleeps for days, misses work, misses appointments, wants to be on the phone late at night or regularly wants to stay overnight at a friend’s house or out camping.

Aggression, anger, mood swings, disrespect, and blaming – to an unreasonable degree, and directed against you and your family or other authorities.

Drug paraphernalia — pincers or paper clips for smoking, empty or disassembled pen cases for snorting, empty aerosol cans, burnt spoons, homemade pot pipes, steel wool, hypodermic needle parts, unknown prescription bottles, empty liquid cold remedy bottles, cold remedy blister packs, missing glues or solvents, or knives and spoons used for crushing and sniffing pills repeatedly show up in their room.

Dropping grades– lack of care for school, sports or other healthy pursuits.

Drugs May Be the Behavior Issue

It’s easy to identify bad behavior and blame drug use on teenage rebellion, but it could be that drugs are what’s affecting your child’s behavior.  The real dilemma comes from the parent not believing their child might be experimenting with or using drugs in the first place. This is simply denial. Until a parent understands the real possibility of drugs use — even if their teen has good Christian friends and is active in church — they won’t be able to get to the root of the problem.

You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to “cope” with some giant in their life, but that’s another matter altogether. And because it is inconceivable that your child would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with him or drug test him to find out.  I’ve found that parents with kids in Christian schools are the least likely to admit their teen has a problem.  After all, they are in a “safe” environment, right?  Wrong!  Kids that have come to our program with drug issues tell me that the drug problem is more prevalent, not less, in the Christian schools they’ve attended than in public schools.

Before Counseling, Get the Drug Use Under Control

Since drug use may be the cause of behavioral issues, all the behavioral counseling in the world will have little positive effect until the drug use is stopped and the lingering effects of the drug are out of the teenager’s system.  Depending on the drug that was used, the after-effects can last several months. That’s why at Heartlight, we require that kids with known drug dependencies first go through a separate addiction treatment program.  We cannot deal with their inner issues until the drug issues are taken care of.  Likewise, don’t attempt to get counseling for your teen until the drugs are out of their system.  It’s a waste of money and time.  The best plan is to have the two therapies work hand in hand, ensuring that the ongoing support of an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous program continue in tandem with your teen’s counseling for emotional and behavioral issues.

If your teen is showing any of the signs I’ve already mentioned, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen. Make it a prerequisite for using the car.  Hold them accountable to the results, just as if a court would hold them accountable if they were on probation.  Test them even when they squeal in protest or appear disappointed that you don’t trust them. Easy-to-use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store that can be used for regular monitoring. And when you test them, stay in the room. Don’t trust them to give you a valid sample. If they are getting caught up in that culture, they’ll also know ways to get around the test and they’ll have no trouble lying to you about it.

Overall, your teenager needs to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in an addiction treatment program or reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail. Better a few days in jail and a time on probation where they’ll get tested regularly, than a lifetime in the grip of drugs.

Don’t stick your head in the sand or otherwise pretend that your teen knows better than to try drugs. If you are dealing with an out of control teen, and there have been no other traumatic events or psychological problems in your child’s life, you are most likely dealing with the effects of drugs or alcohol or other intoxicating substances in one form or another. The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the better the chance you’ll have for finding the right kind of help for your child.

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.