HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

What To Do When Your Teen Lies About Bad Grades

“We are seeing problems with our teenage son thinking that he is smarter than everyone else, not doing schoolwork because he thinks it is 'dumb', then lying to us when confronted by the bad grades. How should we deal with this lying issue?”

One of the perpetual problems that many parents face is lying by their teens. Moms and dads will often personalize this problem and view it as a sign that their teens lack respect for them. Parents may also believe that their parental authority is being undermined when their teens distort the truth.

Moms and dads need to understand that all behavior is purposeful, even the habit of lying. Some lying is a common feature of the human experience. Rather than focus on the specific lies told by their teens and the implications of those lies, parents would be well-served in trying to understand the purposes underlying their teen's need to distort the truth.

When moms and dads confront their teens about their pattern of lying, they may inadvertently make the problem worse. They may unintentionally promote a power-struggle and cause their teens to actually become more deceptive about their behavior.

I believe that moms and dads need to rethink their perspective for dealing with their teens when they lie. I recommend they never use the word “lying” in front of their teenagers. Use of the word “lie” sets up an adversarial dynamic. It is preferable to use phrases such as "you need to be more up-front with me" or "you need to be honest with me." This relaxes the encounter and makes it more likely that you will get to the bottom of the situation.

Oftentimes, young people will lie if they feel intimidated or feel excessive pressure from a mother or father. For example, an adolescent may be afraid of harsh, punitive treatment as a consequence for poor grades. Talking with your son or daughter on an on-going basis about the nature and quality of his or her work – rather than focusing on assessment – is helpful in promoting more truthfulness.

The teenage years may be the most difficult developmental period for dealing with lying. Teens, during adolescence, are looking for ways to separate from their moms and dads through experimentation, concealing information, and acting guarded. Try to keep the lines of communications open. Set appropriate boundaries and limits. Monitor your teen closely for substance abuse, and other acting-out behaviors. Never accept excuses for inappropriate behavior. Set logical consequences and stick to them. By setting these parameters, you can reduce the opportunity for your teenagers to engage in lying.

Some guidelines for parents to cope with teens who conceal the truth are:
  • All behavior is purposeful, even lying. Lying is not always intentional deceit and may be aimed at getting attention from moms and dads or manipulating a situation.
  • All teens will lie on occasion. It is inevitable. Remember your childhood?
  • As a parent, role-model honest communications and behavior demonstrating integrity with your teen. Teens may pick up on inconsistencies in parenting and use those patterns as a reason to be untruthful and manipulative.
  • Monitor your teen's behavior – without over-involvement – to see if you notice any red-flags.
  • Never make the issue of deception the main focal point of your conversations. Lying is always a byproduct of other more meaningful areas of exploration with your teen.
  • Never set-up your son or daughter by being aware of a lie and then asking him or her for the truth without discussing that you have information. Acknowledge up-front that you know what's going on.
  • Reframe the word “lying.” Use terminology that means the same, but softens the conflict.
  • Stay out of power-struggles with teenagers over deception. If you know they are being untruthful, merely acknowledge it and set reasonable, logical consequences.
  • Teens may be embarrassed or sensitive about telling the truth. Acknowledge those feelings with them, but insist on knowing the truth.
  • When teens tell the truth, reinforce their positive behavior.

Remember that lying is purposeful behavior that can be minimized with healthy involvement with your adolescent, appropriate monitoring, sensitivity and understanding, and role-modeling of honest, open, and emotionally expressive communications.

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