Why has my teen started lying to me?
Dear Straight Talk: As a parent, I find your column very helpful. I have a situation I've not read about. Over the past two weeks, I kept asking my youngest about his homework assignment, and he kept saying he had it handled. It turned out he had barely started it.
He is a high school freshman. Can anyone explain why he would lie so profusely when the truth would surely come to light? He has no answer for me. Also, should I be on the lookout for more lies? — Confused and hurt in Davis
Colin, 19, Los Angeles: I resolved on my 18th birthday to tell no more lies. It wasn't that difficult. Up till then, about 85 percent of my lies were to my parents, the remaining 15 percent to teachers and authority figures. (I never found any reason to deceive my peers.) Virtually all of my deception related to schoolwork.
Your son probably fears either retaliation and/or the shame of letting you down. Needless to say, these fears outweigh the consequences for lying. Make it clear that he can be comfortable being honest with you — is this currently the case? — and that failure is OK but lying isn't.
Leah, 20, Yuba City: Look into the assignment, class dynamics and what is going on in his life. He might not understand the material and is embarrassed. Or he's juggling multiple activities and might think you'll force him to drop one.
I think every child lies to their parent. Top reasons: fear of disappointing them, losing a privilege, facing consequences, embarrassment. Being wary of future lies is smart, but don't go overboard in suspecting every little thing.
Peter, 25, Honolulu: Sometimes kids lie because they think that's the only way to get their own space. I lied when my parents asked me questions I didn't think were their business. It was sometimes about the most frivolous things, but it all sounded like so much nagging and I felt able to take care of myself. For me, it was part of adolescence and I grew out of it.
Alex, 16, Newton, Mass.: Personally, I don't lie. But I can relate. Your son may want some space or less pressure about homework. It's his life. He may feel that lying is his only option to get you to leave him alone.
Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: Lying is pretty common when it comes to teenagers and homework. Between friends, stress, extracurriculars and "discovering ourselves," homework can take a back seat.
Freshman year can be a huge jump. It was for me. I lied my way through some assignments until my grades started tanking and I got my act together. (Heck, I've lied to my girlfriend about college homework!)
Give it some time, see how his grades reflect his behavior. There are white lies, and there are career-destroying lies. If he starts failing classes, you obviously step in. But be constructive. Let him know you have his back.
Dear Confused: Thank you for an eye-opening question — no pun intended. And thank you, panelists, for your unwincing honesty — no sarcasm intended. The panelists nailed this one. Among the reasons for lying that they mention, I hope something rings true regarding your son.
The best way to curb lying is the same for any acting out. Rather than leading with shock, frustration or indignance, first and foremost acknowledge that they must be under tremendous stress to have lied. When your first concern is for their well being, it changes the game.
You still can give (fair) consequences for lying, but when teens know you understand their stress and care about them (and are willing to problem-solve or negotiate, if needed), they generally stop needing to lie.
For elaboration on constructively handling a significant insult from your teen (such as being lied to), I am steering you to our recent column "Is cursing at parents normal?" which dealt with kids saying "F— you" to their parents. Though a more loaded insult, the basic solution is the same. While I've presented the bare bones of it here, that column has specific response examples and why this method works.
Today's column also makes me want to throw in another wake-up call about the benefits of starting middle and high school later. The schools that have moved start times back an hour prove it's a game-changer in making adolescent stress more cope-able.
Adolescent sleep cycles are biologically wired for "later to bed, later to rise" (no, they are not just being lazy), yet most teens now start school before 8 a.m., earlier than most adults start work. Please see our column "What if high school started an hour later?" for more about this extremely important issue. — Lauren
Lauren Forcella co-writes Straight Talk TNT with a panel of more than 70 teens and young adults. To ask a question or become a panelist, click StraightTalkTNT.com or write to P.O. Box 963, Fair Oaks, CA 95628.