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What to do when you think your teen "may" have lied to you - but you have no proof:

Question

Hello Mark, I recently started your online program and am so glad I found it! I have a question involving lying that cannot be proven. I am 99% sure my 14 yr old son did these things but I have no physical proof that he specifically is the one that did it. My husband says without that proof we cannot punish him. I disagree, but I am afraid it may cause him to resent me on that 1% chance he is not lying. Issue 1: porn downloaded on my computer during 1 hour while I was away. I have a spyware program that showed this, and he says Limewire auto downloads stuff and he didn’t do it. Issue 2: 30 presc pills of mine are missing and he has been caught with other drugs/alcohol previously. Besides my husband and myself, the only person in the household is my 19 yr old daughter and we have no reason to believe she would have done either of these things as #1 she has her own computer, and #2 she has not had problems with this kind of thing, and #3 we can always tell if she lies and she says she didn't do these things. Should we punish my son? Thank you, T.


Answer

Your husband is right. If you don’t have proof, you shouldn’t issue a consequence – BUT you should safeguard your prescription meds and limit/monitor use of the computer.

As with ALL parents, there will come a time when you will catch your teen in a lie. It may be about something small, like telling you they have no homework when they are actually behind in school, or it could be something as big as saying they are spending the night at friends and staying out all night. When a teen gets away with a small lie, they tend to move onto bigger lies, so it's important to not let them get away with even the first small lie. It's about setting boundaries and using discipline to educate your child as to what you will not put up with, and drawing clear expectations of their behavior.

It's harder than it looks. You found out, you talked to them, you feel hurt and betrayed, but you pass it off as a youthful indiscretion and let it pass. They promise not to do it again, but the consequences did not match the action, and therefore they will continue to test and push to see how far they can get. Your job is to set clear expectations with your teen about lying, and set clear consequences.

This is a natural part of youth development, seeing how much they can get away with. But constant lying can lead to bigger problems, such as petty theft. So stay strong, set clear boundaries, and let the discipline (notice the word used here is discipline and not punishment) fit the lie.

How can you tell if your teen is lying to you in the first place? Listed below are a few ways therapists and other professionals use to spot when someone is telling a lie:
  1. If your teen avoids looking at you when telling you a story or looks at you too long without blinking, this is an indication that he/she may be lying. People tend not to look at the person they are lying to in the eye when lying, unless they know this fact and then they tend to look at you for too long. If you talk to your teen on a regular basis, you'll see a deviation in how he/she behaves while communicating to you during a lie.
  1. Many times when a person lies, they look down. When a person tells you what happened and it’s the truth, they tend to look up and ‘see’ the event happening as it did. But when someone is using their creativity to ‘make up’ what happened, they look down.
  1. People who are lying fidget. But this is also a sign of stress, so don’t go by this alone. Ask to check up on the story.
  1. People who are lying touch their face and mouth. This type of body language is something that happens often when someone is lying. It isn’t easy to pick up until you know to look for it.
  1. Teens who are lying avoid details, or have well practiced details, and change the story in the second telling. Again, this doesn’t happen as often with highly intelligent teens. Ask to check up on the story and see how he she reacts.
  1. The faster you get over the shock that your teen will lie to you, the better you will be at spotting when he/she is lying. Your teen will not be trying to hurt you by lying, so try not to emotionally attach yourself to that action.
  1. There will be a pause. This one would tell me something is wrong when I had a teen on the phone. If I ask for details on what he/she was doing, there is always a pause before the answer. It’s time for the teen to make something up. This happens face to face too.
  1. When someone lies, they get defensive and will not be happy if you chose to check-up on their story. It has been my experience when a teen is not lying, they offer ways for you to check up by giving you the phone numbers or names you need. They may be a little insulted – I fall back and regroup later – but they aren’t defensive. Being defensive and pitching a fit when asked to help you check the story is a sure sign something is amiss and the teen is lying.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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