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.


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.