My 14-year-old is telling lies

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
September, 2015

Q: I have caught my 14-year-old daughter in several lies lately, sometimes about very minor things. It’s getting so that I can’t believe anything she tells me. It’s almost as if she is a chronic liar. How should I handle this?

A: Someone once said, “You’ll never get mixed up if you simply tell the truth. Then you don’t have to remember what you have said, and you never forget what you have said.” As your daughter matures, the challenge is to guide her toward honesty. 

Cognitive changes. Teens’ thought processes become more sophisticated and they can predict possible consequences of disclosing rule violations. As they analyze the cost/benefit ratio of disclosure, the result may be a lie. 

Walk the walk. Benjamin Franklin’s proverb, “Well done is better than well said,” captures the importance of parental modeling. Do you pay the higher-priced entrance fee at an amusement park even though your teen could pass for under 12? Embed honesty into the everyday fabric of your family life.

Focus on dialogue, not “catching.” Don’t ask a question when you already know the answer. Rather than asking, “Did you take out the trash yet?”, say: “I’ve asked you to take out the trash and it hasn’t happened. You need to do it now.” Her response is likely to be a delay tactic. Follow through and make sure she completes the request. 

Prosocial, or “little white,” lies are motivated by kindness. When children deliver breakfast in bed, a mom may exclaim with delight while eating burnt toast! The joy is real, although not based on the quality of the food as the children assume. Parents can guide their children to respond in ways that promote respect for others. Read Proverbs 10:9.