One of the hardest things we as parents face is to decide what to do when we think our teenager is lying to us. It is hard to deal with this because our reactions are typically coloured by emotions such as betrayal and fear. Betrayal because we always thought we would have the trust of our children, and fear because we wonder if this is just the first sign that they might be involved in something dangerous or harmful. 

Understand Why Your Teen Might Feel the Need to Lie

However, it helps to take a few steps back and try to understand the reasons behind why your child might be lying.  Understanding the reasons behind the lie will help us as parents decide what the best course of action should be. 

No one likes to be punished. If your teens have lied before, and that lie has helped to get them out of  trouble, chances are, they will continue to do so. Recognise that more often than not, lying out of fear is a form of self-defence, rather than a malicious intent to cause grief.  

Peer Pressure
At an age where social acceptance comes hand in hand with peer pressure, teenagers lie to “look cool” or to gain approval from their fellow peers. This is especially true when it comes to doing the “wrong” things – smoking, drinking, partying - all below Singapore’s legal age of 18. 

Homework, laundry, grocery shopping – these are some of the things that teens love to lie about. They find excuses in order to avoid doing it. When your son is playing FIFA 14 on his PS3 and you ask if he has done his homework, he just might be tempted to say it’s been done when it hasn’t.

What You Can Do

So after understanding the justifications (at least, from a teenager's perspective), how should parents deal with their children when it comes to lying? 

Progressive Discipline
One simple way to approach it would be to deal out progressively severe punishments. This way, you are giving your child a chance to reflect, but should your child not learn from the initial lesson, you are still able to enforce the necessary discipline. For example, the first lie would result in a curfew. The second lie might entail a tighter curfew at 8pm and confiscation of items dear to them – such as their mobile or laptop for the whole night. The consequence should make your teenager uncomfortable enough to realise to feel that it is not worth the lie. The idea is that the next time your teen faces a situation where there is a temptation to lie, recalling the consequences will make your teen think twice about repeating the experience.

Don't Make it Personal
When you discipline your child for lying, it should be for the action and nothing else. Do not make it personal for your child. For example, although your child’s punishment might be a curfew, it doesn't mean that you and your teen have to go through a cold war and not talk to each other for the rest of the week. 

Create an Open Environment
Last but not least, create an environment where your teens can be honest with you about their feelings. Keep yourself up-to-date about the latest happenings and trends, especially those related to your child. Start expressing social views on topics such as sex, drugs (yes, even drugs) and romantic relationships openly with them. While your child may be surprised at first or even find these conversations awkward, your teen will gradually open up and realise your efforts in trying to understand them. Even if you do not agree with your teenager's opinions, avoid using negative words such as “don't” and “no”. Instead, ask them “why do you think it's wrong?” or “what can you accomplish by doing that?”

Key Takeaways:

  • A teen's justification for lying is fear, social acceptance and avoidance.

  • Deal out progressively severe disciplinary actions, but don’t make the discipline personal. 

  • Create an environment where your teen can be honest with you about their feelings.