How To Deal With Teens Lying

Caught ya!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?”

teen lying** 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


  1. Thank you for this article. I have been struggling with my 12-year-old son who has been lying about where he spends his time. I wanted to believe that if I showed that I trusted him, he would cut down on lying, but that has not yet happened, so I will have to go with a consequence.

    • Marie:

      I agree Marie. Tweens and teens like to maintain their standard of living, but your son needs to earn it– you cannot just give him what he wants with the hope that your kindness will cause him to be appreciative. We have to earn the respect of teens by being authoritative parents. Trust needs to be earned and your son is not earning it.


  2. Thanks for all your insightful advice; this is an article I have bookmarked and emailed to my son’s father.

  3. This article is supposed to be about what to do when teens lie. The conclusion is, however, that we should have been better parents before they were teenagers. Duh. But not terribly useful.

    • Elizabeth says:

      No this is not true. Many times we do not know what we should be doing with teens until somone helps us see “the light”. It is never too late to say, “I know it’s been confusing that I say one thing and then let you do another…., it’s not fair to you. So, from now on…if you’re not in by curfew you lose the use of the car for a week, or, if you’re somewhere else besides where you told me you lose the car for a week…etc.” It is never too late to tell a CHILD that you were wrong and that you’re doing things differently for their benefit. They will not understand now, and it will be many years before they do, but at hopefully they will survive and live to thank you.

  4. What am I supposed to do with an 18 year old that isn’t my own but lives in my house? We gave him very clear guidelines and expectations for him to be able to stay here and he is beginning to slack off. Now he’s using avoidance and not communicating with me.

    • Donna:

      You set clear expectations and this 18-year old is testing the limits. He is not respecting the boundaries,and therefore has not earned the privilege of living in your home. You have to take care of yourself and not be an enabler. If he continues to live with you I predict things will only become more stressful for you. He is clearly not appreciative.


      • Hi Donna,
        I was in the same situation as you are and have to agree with Alan. There comes a point where helping and being supportive truly do become enabling, especially if the young person is lying and engaging in illicit activity. When our help becomes enabling, it allows the person to avoid the consequences of his/her actions, allows him/her to descend even farther into whatever hell they are making for themselves and exacerbates their false sense of reality, as well as making us into victims. Don’t expect the biological parents (assuming they are around) to understand when you have to make the decision to let him experience the consequences of his actions. In many cases they have been enabling or have been in deep denial for many years and will possibly try to make you feel like you are making a big deal out of nothing. AA and NA meetings are full of people who can attest to the insidious effects of enabling. Enabling does no one any good.
        Know that by standing firmly, you are standing in love. If he chooses to uphold his part of the agreement, then more power to him! If not, your stand my be the wake-up call he needs to take an honest look at himself and decide how he wants to live his life.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    And by the way, I always disclose to my kids that it’s my right to go through their backpacks and be in their rooms. I started this at an early age. Before they even thought about EVER wanting to keep me out of their lives. Nothing of theirs, in my house, is off limits. We don’t have a question about this, even to view their incoming and outgoing text.

    I also have told them that nothing in the parenting manual has ever said that they should be provided a car or a college education. They are saving their money. :o)

    • I am the same way with my kids. I don’t make it a habit to be looking through their backpacks, but I’m checking for moldy sandwiches etc. and sometimes check their wallets for the bus pass.

      • kristina says:

        I have been taking care of my 13 yr old niece since she was 9. She locks her cell phone so I can’t read her texts. (The reason for the snooping was because she has lied on many occassions). She has deleted me from her facebook friends because I found outrageous remarks and punished her for it. She has also deleted my friends that are on her friend page because they let me know what she is posting. Her father explained she is not allowed on facebook with out me being involved, but I can’t stop her from going on at the library or her friends house. I am at my wits end with really very little help from her father. I do not know how to handle these situations, mainly because she is not my child.

    • Kristina,
      Why does she still have cell service, online access and privileges to go visiting friends? She’s doing all of this because you let her, and I think she will appreciate some boundaries, rules and steadfastness here (although, you will have to wait another 15 years for appreciation and thank you).

      In MY house the children clean MY room that we let them use, they do their chores because that is what one does when one lives in someone else’s home. You help make the mess, you help clean it. You don’t have to like the rules, but you do have to obey them.
      If you are stepping up as her mother figure, then you need to MOTHER her, and this may be exactly what she is actually desperately seeking.
      In my house, teenagers who complain they don’t get enough privacy (or hide things like drugs, bad grades – but not things like diaries, condoms etc), or don’t do their chores or don’t do whatever we’ve all agreed upon, have the door to their room removed, their cell phones shut off, their visiting privileges revoked. Apologies include stating: what you did, why it was wrong, the impact it had on others and yourself, and then, and only then, a sincere “I’m sorry for ___________.”
      Determining what needs to happen to rectify the situation includes input from those that were wronged, but the parents have the ultimate decision power of consequences. Sometimes kids surprise you and come up with good amends.

      One thing I know for sure, if you keep letting her treat you like a second-class citizen, don’t be surprised when she treats you like, well, a second-class citizen.
      Time for a family meeting about what is expected of here and what it’s going to take to earn back her phone, her visiting privileges and what it will take to keep you from contacting facebook and having her account canceled. (yes, you can do that)
      And while you can appreciate that she may have some emotional turbulence to deal with, bad behavior in not an acceptable form of expression. She can feel free to discuss what’s bothering her with you, a mentor, or therapist, but that behavior is not how the family behaves and treats each other.

  6. I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything in the Creator’s book on asking children to tell us what THEY are going to do when THEY sin. I can’t even see how this is suppose to work.

    Reminding them of our positive role modeling might be appropriate, but actions have consequences, whether good or bad. Do you expect their future employer to say, “I’ve provided a decent work place for you, compensated you for the work you’ve done, etc., yet you lied to me about saying you were sick when really you wanted to go to the mall with your friends. I then had to inconvenience someone else by asking them to work an extra shift (or whatever), what are you going to do to restore relationships around here? I don’t think so.

    • Sharon,
      From the “Creator’s book” I find that the ultimate punisher of sin is God, not the parent. “He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” “Judge not, lest you be judged”. According to the Book, the job of parents is to raise a child to be a responsible adult who makes good decisions about life choices first and foremost. EPH 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. COL 3:21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. While DISCIPLINE is an integral part of parenting, that is not the same as being the imposer of sin consequence. Discipline includes giving the child the opportunity to explore the NATURAL consequences of his/her actions (eg. loss of parental trust, etc)and learning in a safe, loving environment how to correct errors made while they are in your care.

      You are exactly right that in the “real” world they will not be treated to the luxury of understanding and led to the correct choice. In the work place, they are expected to have already been given the tools needed to make correct choices and the work ethic to do a good job. Those lessons happen in YOUR HOME. In a good home, it happens with the compassion and love that only a parent has for a child. There are times when consequences are a necessary part of parenting, but giving your child the capacity to make correct decisions for himself/herself rather than expecting them to make good decisions based on fear of bad consequences is the pure essence of good parenting and is in NO WAY contradictory to the “Creator’s book” whose main message is LOVE.

    • Sharon:

      When I say “What are you going to do to make things right,” I expect my child to impose a reasonable consequence on himself. I am not advocating, “I am sorry” is enough. He is going to consequences himself to my satisfaction.

      The underlying philosophy of “asking children” is:
      1) “You created this problem and you are going to accept the responsibility for fixing it.”
      2) If I (the parent) decide on the appropriate consequence I risk it would lead to arguing, rebellion and disconnection. As I have said, our power with our teens is in the relationship.
      3) More often than not teens are harder on themselves than we would be.


    • angelmama says:

      I agree, my seventeen yr old isn’t resposible enough to tell the truth, how can I trust her to get a job? My spouse and I argue about weather to allow her to do things on her own. but He wants to turn her loose at 18. I feel like if we don’t allow her to make some choices now she may go outter limits when she is on her own. don’t get it twisted she has tons of extra curricular activites
      but I don’t allow her to drive my only car. I don’t let her have a job.

      Maybe some advice on how to handle the letting go part, while she lies about details when we do let her out.

    • Hey Kristina, I admire your willingness to parent your niece.That says love to me though she may not see it yet. I think that if you don’t have access to her cell phone that her cell service should be frozen until she comes around. I can tell you that it will get worse before it gets better . . . but it will get better!

  7. It was during the time of my Moms passing, 3 years ago, that I really began to notice my now 1lmost 14 year old homeschooling sons penchant for lying. I left his Dad in the very beginning of his first few months on this planet, for the very reason that he was a patholgogical liar who routinely lied to me and stole from my pocket and bank account. Of course, as I became more and more vulnerable with my moms weakening state and eventual death, I certainly had no more time or energy for any un-kind of dissention; just adding more dis-ease to the truama.

    Often, I believe it may be all the chaos my son is surrounded by in this unconscious culture; microwave towers, satellites, computers, x-boxes and violent games and movies routines played by most others around him. Peer pressure imposed mainly by his schooled friends whom dominate this urban area we live in, lack of nature, never enough exercise for a growing, testosterone-injected Aries male and very few individuals whom share our Eastern yogic idealogy that I have raised him with.

    I know that the happier we are as people and parents, the more well adjusted our children will routinely be. A relaxed child is the easiest to deal with, especially during puberty and all its myriad of mystical changes. Therefore, I do my best to do for myself what I expect him to learn to do for himself.

    Keeping a conscious connection is of uppoermost value. The other day I discovered that my son and his friend had been on the laptop and looked up porn and its many facets, thereof. I was absolutely shocked, outraged and a million other fearful feelings. We had a discussion that day and another talk a couple of days later. Seems his very innocent school pals, whom he has since dropped, kept on obsessing over porn; continually mentioning it in my sons company, where they once not so long ago, would have been playing, while at the playground and at home trading Yo-Gi-Yo cards. My son is of course, curious. Too many times prodded, he succumbed. What next?

    Many fears can come up as we raise our children. I find that I am constantly triggered and can easily find my son to be my worst and only abuser. Not a good situation. Being a victim serves no one. So we consciously converse. I am honest. And, I see that my once so very aware son seems half asleep most of the time. It is very challenging, to say the least.

    Parents need to talk more, amongst themselves and with each other. Sometimes I feel like a freak because I have no one to converse with concerning the daily delimna’s that arise on a daily basis. Loving myself never mattered more. Staying centered is far easier to do when you first take care of yourself; allowing you to look after that second beloved being better than if one forgets about the person and parent who must come first.

    Simply touching base on the subject that this society hides behind closed doors and seriously needs to devote more space in all of our loving lives to; in order to keep our families together and save all of our lives worth living!

    Thank you for this fabulous forum and for your valuable information.



    • Dear Katherine,
      I am so sorry for all you have been through and are going through. Your mom’s passing has, rightly, consumed your time energy and attention. That’s as it is – your son has not been deprived, on the contrary, you have been a witness to him of the real life struggles involved in our complex web of living, loving, imperfect relationships.  I totally respect your devotion to truth and to your son, and admire your thoughtfulness, faithfulness, courage and determination. But please do not see your son as having a ‘penchant’ for lying. Every body does this, especially if they expect a critical or harsh and judgmental reaction. Your son is growing into a young man in a complex world. You have been his guide, you have helped ‘form’ him. Now he needs to test your wisdom! You are so right to recognise the importance of your own well being. You are loved as much as you love your son! Did your parents bring you up as sensitively and conscientiously as you are raising your son? If so, you are blessed! If not, you will see that your wisdom is a grace discovered through your own experiences (good and bad) in this world. Your son has the same freedom to discover his own wisdom (we cannot just give our children all ours) and you have given him a brilliant and loving start. Now his job is to grow up and that takes time and is not easy. The world is big and wide but filled with people just like you and him but never the same as you. He has to learn how to live in the world and to do that will, if he has any intelligence, be curious about what you have hitherto protected him from.
      You have a great relationship (connection). Keep that alive and let the love you have start to ripen through new degrees of trust. 
      We cannot make another person do anything, or stop doing anything. We can only make sure that we are clear about our own values, rights and responsibilities, and communicate that with love. 
      The Important thing for you and your son now is that you allow yourself to trust. Trust yourself, trust him and love him. See the man in the child and love what you see (he is not his dad and he is not you). He will make mistakes (i daresay you did too?) He will not ever be ‘yours’. (We are in loco parentis for God.) You are not alone, and your use of this forum gives you a whole new community! Thank you for sharing. Every day find something to be glad about in your yourself and in your lovely son.
      With every best wish,
      From, Breda 

  8. How can I print this article?

    • Hi Laura,

      You can print the page using the File -> Print commands in your browser, although it won’t be perfectly formatted. The easiest thing, I think, is to just copy and paste the article into a program like Word, and print from there. Please let me know if I can help further.

  9. My son, 13 1/2 years old, went yesterday with a schoolfriend and his family to a village out of town. Even though he didn’t have his cellphone with him, I let him go in the end, taking the number of his friends cellphone. My son told me, don’t worry, I won’t be back late etc. In the end, it turned out that the family did stay out of town till 21:00 and I gladly took the offer from the mother of his friend, to have my son sleep over, instead of coming home at 22:00 or 23:00. I told him on the phone, that I was very displeased at the way things developed, after his telling me not to worry, he’d be home “early”.
    Now I don’t know if I have to punish him somehow, or just have a serious talk with him.
    Thanks to your other articles, I would like to finally start having him develop his own personality, make his own mistakes and not always be so protective.
    Any ideas?

    • Did you consider that perhaps he had no control over what caused them to be so late? It may be quite true when he left that the plan, as he knew it, was to be home ‘early’. Did you discuss what he was to do if something came up that would change that ‘early’ to ‘later’? Teaching him to proactively communicate with you when circumstances change, particularly when they are outside of his control, is far more important, in my opinion. And were you proactive in calling when the appointed ‘early’ hour came and went and he wasn’t home and you hadn’t heard from him? This is a two-way street. If my teen hasn’t checked in, then it’s my job to check in with him, not sit at home and fume and plan punishments when I don’t know the full story.

  10. I have the same problem like Kristina. I am a nanny to two teenage girls, and I honestly have a hard time dealing with lying that the younger girl constantly practice. She is 15 now, and I have been with them since she was 4. Although I am just a nanny, they are my family, and the girls are like my own. Their parents are, I don’t even know how to explain it, in some kind of an eternal denying….whatever these girls tell them they believe them, wherever they want to go they let them.

    That would be perfect when everything would be so clear, but despite the total freedom, girls are still lying. They would ask to go for a play when they actually spend time at friend’s house drinking or go to Village in NY where they can get cheap drinks, or maybe even drugs. I figured out some of their lies, and told my boss about them, but she wasn’t really interested to know what was going on….it ended like,”all teenagers lye, I lied, you lied…it will be ok.” Like everything is so easy….well, it is not easy for me.

    I am scared for their lives, I am scared they won’t go the right way, and I wonder why do they lye when in their all life they were never punished for anything and they were allowed to do whatever they wanted. I was brought up in a different society and for me all this is so strange…don’t you as a parent care where your children are and what they do? I understand, you trust them, they are smart and responsible and would never do anything stupid…but they are only 15 and 18 years old….

  11. Natalie M Valles teacher says:

    Teens: we need to consider that many teens fall into the same position. they will test the waters of probably everyone, they will see how far they can takes sometimes, they will be naughty or bad sometimes, they will experience consequences. This is the best time in your life to do this. My kids tell me its hard to be good. This is usually after they new they made the wrong choice but I want them to know that I know its hard; everything’s hard. Life’s hard!

    But I agree with many parents speaking here. I am very clear with my children about their responisiblities. Sometimes I let things slide a little, no harm in that. I can’t say my room or bathroom is perfectly clean every second, but I do say, hey, its time for us to get things in order and then lay out the expectations. They know what things should lok like now and they have experienced some serious conserquences!!! Ones that make and impact and remind them not to go there again. Its a parent’s job to do this. It matches real life.