There are two major issues to be considered with respect to teens lying to their parents: the parent-child relationship and the extent to which the teen sees his parents as authority figures.
First, we’ll examine the relationship. As discussed in my most recent article on the subject of parenting teenagers and peer pressure, if we expect to have a meaningful impact on our teen’s choices, we have to be in a connected relationship with them. A parent-teen relationship should possess the same qualities as any other relationship: with trust at the foundation. My daughter needs to know that she can trust me to tell her the truth, trust that I want what is best for her, trust that I will be there when she needs me, trust I won’t crush her dreams, and trust that I will make sacrifices to help her get where she wants to go. However, for there to be a relationship, my daughter needs to feel the same way about me. I can be the most loving, giving dad on the planet, but if my daughter doesn’t respect me, we don’t have a relationship.
Therefore, the expectation I have of my daughter, or any teen I am in a relationship with (I coach basketball), is that we’re honest with each other. “I won’t lie to you, you won’t lie to me.” We can also say, “If you do something wrong, don’t make matters worse by lying about it. I can deal with the truth– I can’t deal with lies.”
In spite of this wonderful philosophy, let’s say I catch my daughter in a fairly significant lie. I’d say,”Sarah, sit down here, we have to have a talk. You obviously lied to me. I gave you permission to go to Joanne’s house, but you had no intentions of being at Joanne’s house. You planned all along to go see Jason. Why did you lie to me, why did you feel you couldn’t be honest with me about this?”
“Sarah, I have some questions for you. Do I respect you– you know, do I snoop through your backpack, do I look through your cell phone? No, of course not. Don’t I try my best to cooperate with you when you want to do something? Didn’t I just agree to allow you to go to a concert that was being held on a school night? And how about driving? You get to drive one of our two family cars to school a lot, right? So, explain why lying to me is OK with you?”
** If you really want to be calm and non-confrontational, say, “You lied to me about where you were going, what’s up with that?” Doesn’t that sound harmless? “What’s up with that” is a great way to ask, “What is your problem?” or “What’s wrong with you?”
We then engage in a discussion about the incident. Discipline involves communication and teaching. Depending on how the conversation evolves, our teen may or may not suffer a consequence. If we think the message we delivered was sincerely accepted and understood, and she sees the error of her ways, a consequence may not be necessary. If a consequence is appropriate, I prefer, “What are you going to do to make this right?”
Our teen created a problem and our teen will do the thinking– not us. If her plan is lame, we say, “That is unacceptable, you have to do better than that.” It has to be a losing proposition to be uncooperative and untrustworthy.
We also have to be an authority figure. Why should our kids listen to us if we’re permissive wimps? Our words would mean nothing. Our kids conclude that our threats are hollow, and that they can manipulate their way out of experiencing a consequence. Waiting until the teen years to start clamping down is often too late because our kids don’t respect our authority. Our kids have to learn when they are young that, “When my mother speaks, she means it. If I test her, I will lose. As long as I make good decisions, there is a good chance I’ll get to do what I want to do.”
Can I sit here and tell you this approach worked with my daughter? Yes I can. As a kid she slammed doors, kicked me, hit me, and was an unappreciative, entitled child. By ten years of age, she was a self-disciplined kid, because she learned, “When I make good decisions, I have a great life.”
This includes lying. I do believe she creates her own reality on occasion (ex. “I’ll have enough times in study hall to finishing the book.”), but she is a moral person who doesn’t lie to me or anyone else. In large part, she doesn’t lie to me because we have a connected relationship and she does respect me.
by: © Alan Carson ACPI© Coach for Parents