Family Magazine

The Truth About Lying

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman
A parent wrote me recently with this question. I'm guessing it will be a familiar quandary.

Lying.  My daughter has been taking some expensive classes each weekend and my husband and I just discovered that she's skipped 2 of them. She said she really hates the classes but of course we're still dealing with the deceit and her whereabouts for the time she was supposed to be in class.  Since the classes were expensive we were thinking about having her pay for anything she wants for the rest of the year (Senior Prom dress, AP exams, dance competition fees, new track cleats, it really goes on and on) and/or moving the date she takes her driving test to the summer since she has betrayed our trust.  My husband wants to come down really hard here to illustrate how hurt we are by her lying and how unacceptable lying is to us.  Do you have any thoughts? Kids are funny, aren't they? They are in constant request and promise mode. If you will buy me/pay for me to/take me... I promise I will do xyz, pleeeese!!! I dont' know what class exactly this daughter was taking, but I am sure the motivation came from another friend, or a fantasy she had about what class would be like. Unfortunately, teens base many of their decisions on fantasy and emotion. They imagine that if they join this team, take this modeling class or specialized training program all sorts of amazing things will happen for them. What they aren't imagining or anticipating is that there will be actual work involved and required seriousness by the instructor/coach. Maybe her best friend was doing it and she wanted to make sure that she wasn't missing out on something. Turns out, it wasn't fun, wasn't what she expected, got in the way of other opportunities, take your pick, and now what? She knows that if she tells her parents whe wants to quit, she will have to hear about "quitters" and money, and commitment and so on and so on. And her parents will be right, and that is the worst for any teen... a parent that is right. So what does any self-respecting teen do in this situation..LIE Ah, if only they could get away with it. And this girl did for at least two of the classes. I know the parents are worried about what their daughter was doing instead, I'm guessing not much, hiding out at a friends' probably. So what to do, what to do. First I would want to know why the avoidance to talk to  parents beforehand. Lying is an avoidance technique, and if your teen is lying to avoid you than he/she is either worried about disappointing you or worried that you will just get mad and not listen.  It is really important to understand what motivated the lying. Are you scary? Do you go right to the angry place? If so, your teen has little motivation to be honest. Unfortunately what they don't get is that lying makes everything that much worse; the disappointment, and the anger. In the above situation, I would actually calculate the amount of $$ of the missed classes and deduct that from future spending on non-essentials. That is an objective, non-emotional, right to the point, consequence.  But as important is a calm conversation about what got in the way of her just coming to her parents and saying she didn't like the class. Parents this is an important time to share ownership of the lying. By literally saying, "what could we do differently to make it easier for you to come to us, so that you wouldn't feel you had to lie instead." Decision making is not a teens strong suit. They are impulsive, emotional and persuasive. It is really hard for a parent not to get drawn into their enthusiasm. I think one way to counter this unrealistic enthusism is to have your teen take shared ownership of a decision. For example, the next time this girl asks her parents to do something like this, with a possibility that down the line the teen might change her mind, is to have them share financial responsibility from the get go. If she doesn't have money saved, then an agreement to work it off doing projects of your choosing. This way if things go south, your teen has an investment in making it work.  As for lying, I know how frustrating and disappointing this can be. But this doesn't change the essence of who your teen is. They care alot about what you think, and rather than feel your disappointment they will go to great lengths to avoid it. It doesn't make them bad, or ungrateful, just part of the normal trajectory of teen behavior. You won't like it, and you need to absolutely address it, but look at it as a problem to be solved rather than a characterization of who your teen is.  There are different kinds of lies. Lies of avoidance like this story and lies for getting away with doing something you will say no to, and lies of shame. Teens are extremely motivated to do what they want to do, and go where they want to go, without parental interference. Even the "good" kids. Providing motivation for truth-telling is your greatest weapon!

This link is to a  great Boston Globe article that was in the paper last week about how to encourage truth telling! Also below is a link to my latest Facebook live broadcast: The Pushing button Fight https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2017/01/24/want-honest-kids-commend-them-for-telling-truth-when-they-something-wrong/8TaXlgWiiIpItz1Ete38dK/story.html
https://www.facebook.com/joani.geltman?pnref=story  (Scroll down to find broadcast)

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