Straight Talk Advice

Nov 27, 2012

Lying to parents? Why?

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, Calif.

Colin 19, Los Angeles Ask me a question

I resolved, on my 18th birthday, to tell no more lies. Honestly, 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 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 consequences for lying. Make it clear that he can be comfortable being honest with you — is this currently the case? — and that failure is okay, but lying isn't.

Leah 20, Yuba City, Calif. Ask me a question

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 go overboard in suspecting every little thing.

Peter 25, Honolulu, Hawaii Ask me a question

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. Ask me a question

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 Ask me a question

Lying is pretty common when it comes to teenagers and homework. Between friends, stress, extracurriculars, and “discovering ourselves”, homework can take a backseat. 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 wellbeing, 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.

Editor's Note: For elaboration on constructively handling a significant insult from your teen (such as being lied to), I am steering you to our recent column of OCT 10, 2012 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 8AM, earlier than most adults start work. Please see our column of MAR 21, 2012 for more on this extremely important issue.  

Finding our columns: It's not a jungle in here. You can find columns easily three different ways: 1) click the live link if there is one; 2) find the column by date in our "Weekly Columns" archives; 3) use our Search by Topic list. For instance, the "F– you" column is under "Conflict in General" and "Obscenities & Language." The "sleep" column is under "Schools" and "Health," subcategory "Sleep." Pleasant reading! —Lauren

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  1. By Stephanie, age , from Bay Area, Calif. on 12/03/2012

    Lauren, I have appreciated you and your panel over the past several years , and you usually are on target.  But, as a teacher for over thirty-seven years, I have to tell you that I think you missed the biggest issue in yesterday’s column about homework.  No one dealt with the obvious: freshmen (and some other high schoolers) often lie about homework because they just don’t want to do it.  It is one of the biggest issues we face in high school today—how to help teens become more self-disciplined and recognize the importance of following through with commitments.  It is very possible that this young person isn’t over-committed or stressed, and his mom should first start with the idea that he just did not want to do the work….and lied to get out of it.  When confronted with the reality of failing grades because of not doing homework, most students will admit they thought they could get away with the path of least resistance.  They need the adults in their lives to h!
    old them accountable—the faster that happens, the happier and more successful their high school careers will be.

    May I suggest that mom check the school’s homework website for homework each night?  Trust…but verify.  A couple of weeks of making sure that he is completing each night’s assignments will determine if he is truly capable of being successful in his present classes.  Only then should a parent begin to look at other issues that could be the problem.

    Teens today often have a default setting of “bending the truth.”  It is a sad fact in our society, and adults who interact with them should expect to ask the hard questions to help them get past this character weakness. Many, many students will quickly switch to the truth when more closely questioned, and I salute them for it.  Part of my job as an educator is to help them make honesty their first policy…and parents must also make that a vital part of their job description, too.

    Keep up the good work!

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  2. By Kelsey Weems, age , from Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. on 12/04/2012

    Children lie because they feel that if they tell the truth they will get into trouble. Some of the lying has to do with hormones but most of it has to do with the fact they feel like you won’t understand. As you can see I’m only 13 and these things happen to me all the time. Parents take time to listen to your kids and what they have to say, their side of the story. Make the child feel like they can trust you into understanding how they feel

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  3. By Kricia V. , age , from Charlotte, NC on 12/04/2012

    Telling the truth to parents and adults isn’t easy. Especially when we know that the truth is going to get us in big trouble. Honestly some teens may find it easier to lie to a parent’s face then give them the horrible truth. If you feel like your son is lying to you then you may have to talk to him about the dangers lying can get him in. If it doesn’t work then he may have to learn the hard way how lying can get him into trouble. Tell him how you feel when he lies to you and ask him how he would feel if it were the other way around .

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  4. By Mitchell Cowell, age , from Charlotte, NC on 12/04/2012

    I have lied to my parents before and have payed the price for it. You should never lie to them.

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