To Tell the Truth

 

(Re-posted from April, pn2010, when I wrote much longer blogs):

From a blog reader: “Why do so many teenagers feel compelled to LIE? There are days it seems my 17-year-old lies just to lie. I know sometimes he just doesn’t want to be bothered with a conversation, but other times it’s because he doesn’t want me to know things and yet there are times I feel he is just being plain evil. Too big to “spank”, not sure soap in the mouth would work, do you have a good solution to help resolve this issue?”

Teens lie for two major reasons: to get what they want or to get out of trouble. They also lie for a host of minor reasons: to be funny, to test your mood, to tick you off, to irritate their siblings, to get out of chores/homework/punishment, to let you know they think the question you’re asking isn’t worth their time, to avoid a scene. . .

Sometimes you can just laugh it off with a “yeah, right,” and get a grin of acknowledgment in return. Sometimes you have to confront it head-on and call it what it is, and then issue consequences that fit the crime as much as possible. I do think it’s important to deal with blatant lying, because if you don’t, you’ll be encouraging a really bad (not to mention really immoral) habit. You can also give a teen a false sense of power if he thinks he can outsmart you.

The rules for dealing with any issue with your teen are always the same: keep your cool and stay connected. Most teens have an arsenal of ways to distract you (blaming you, changing the subject, out-and-out attack) – be on the lookout and stick to the task at hand. Sometimes prolonged eye contact – without any words – can result in an admission of guilt. Your goal is to avoid blowing up and creating new issues. Remember: don’t waste your air by asking useless questions like “What made you think I wouldn’t find out?” (you won’t like the answer anyway), or by launching into a lecture. One or two sentences about the importance of being trustworthy or what it means to be a person of integrity, and let it go – for now. You can revisit the topic later in a nonthreatening way when he’s in a more receptive mood.

But what if you know he’s lying and he won’t admit it? First off, make sure of your facts. If you have little or no doubt, then be prepared to be patient. Calmly present your evidence – “I read the text on your phone” – and give him a chance to respond. If he still denies it, tell him you’re going to give him time to think about it. Take his phone and ask him to hang out in his room (or wherever you think is appropriate), and put some distance between the two of you. After a couple of hours you might stop in the doorway and casually ask if he wants to change his story. If you get a glare and a sullen “No!” just fade away and leave him alone. When he’s finally willing to admit he lied, issue a reasonable, appropriate consequence (grounding for a month is usually pretty extreme; missing a social event or staying off the computer or video games for a week or two will usually do the trick). If he never does admit it, sadly express your sorrow that he doesn’t trust you enough to be honest with you – and then issue the consequence anyway.

You will also want to have a conversation about how hard it will be for you to trust him in the future, but don’t make a federal case out of it. Keep giving him “second chances,” and make (casual) mention of your appreciation when he chooses honesty over lying. And remember this: if he does choose honesty, don’t discourage the behavior by “going off” on him. His response will be, “See? When I DO tell you the truth, you just freak out! What’s the point?” Encourage honesty by making it worth the effort, “Thanks for coming clean. Because you did, your consequence will be less than it would’ve been if you’d gone on lying to me.”

It’s too bad that Pinocchio nose-growing thing never panned out, isn’t it?

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

But – maybe not all of them.  Or at least – not all of them right now.

A parent told me the other day that her 16-year-old had conveniently neglected to tell her that the mom who usually drives the carpool was unavailable, so the teenaged son had driven home.  When this parent discovered what had happened, she confronted her daughter, whose only defense was, “I knew you’d be upset, so I just didn’t tell you.”  No doubt accompanied by an annoying shrug.

Teens will conveniently “forget” to tell you about the R-rated movie they saw at a friend’s house, or about the note from the teacher, or about the phone call reminding you about tomorrow’s ortho appointment.  At 8 a.m.

Is it lying when a teen knowingly withholds information because it will cause a parent to be upset and possibly “go off” again?  Not exactly, but it certainly seems sneaky. And even a little manipulative.

Consider it yet another opportunity for a life lesson.  First listen to the teen’s rationalization for not telling you.  Could be he’s got a good point about you going ballistic.  Then take your turn and explain exactly why that information would upset you.  Don’t assume your teen sees things the way you do.  Remember – he’s looking at the world from inside a bubble, so maybe all he knows is you get upset, but he has no idea why.

Then have a chat about facing conflict head-on.  In my house not too long ago, it sounded like this, “Next time, deal with me freaking out.  Because if I know you haven’t been honest this time, how can I be sure you’re being honest next time?  Trust is a huge issue, and once it’s lost, it’s really hard to earn back.”

BUT – the next time you get the whole story, and you feel yourself getting ready to blow, stop and take a deep breath.  Complain, protest, disagree, or issue consequences – but do it as calmly as you can.  If you can play it cool, you’re always going to get better communication than if you turn into raving maniacal parent.

This I know from experience.

To Tell the Truth

From a blog reader: “Why do so many teenagers feel compelled to LIE? There are days it seems my 17-year-old lies just to lie. I know sometimes he just doesn’t want to be bothered with a conversation, but other times it’s because he doesn’t want me to know things and yet there are times I feel he is just being plain evil. Too big to “spank”, not sure soap in the mouth would work, do you have a good solution to help resolve this issue?”

Teens lie for two major reasons: to get what they want or to get out of trouble. They also lie for a host of minor reasons: to be funny, to test your mood, to tick you off, to irritate their siblings, to get out of chores/homework/punishment, to let you know they think the question you’re asking isn’t worth their time, to avoid a scene. . .

Sometimes you can just laugh it off with a “yeah, right,” and get a grin of acknowledgment in return. Sometimes you have to confront it head-on and call it what it is, and then issue consequences that fit the crime as much as possible. I do think it’s important to deal with blatant lying, because if you don’t, you’ll be encouraging a really bad (not to mention really immoral) habit. You can also give a teen a false sense of power if he thinks he can outsmart you.

The rules for dealing with any issue with your teen are always the same: keep your cool and stay connected. Most teens have an arsenal of ways to distract you (blaming you, changing the subject, out-and-out attack) – be on the lookout and stick to the task at hand. Sometimes prolonged eye contact – without any words – can result in an admission of guilt. Your goal is to avoid blowing up and creating new issues. Remember: don’t waste your air by asking useless questions like “What made you think I wouldn’t find out?” (you won’t like the answer anyway), or by launching into a lecture. One or two sentences about the importance of being trustworthy or what it means to be a person of integrity, and let it go – for now. You can revisit the topic later in a nonthreatening way when he’s in a more receptive mood.

But what if you know he’s lying and he won’t admit it? First off, make sure of your facts. If you have little or no doubt, then be prepared to be patient. Calmly present your evidence – “I read the text on your phone” – and give him a chance to respond. If he still denies it, tell him you’re going to give him time to think about it. Take his phone and ask him to hang out in his room (or wherever you think is appropriate), and put some distance between the two of you. After a couple of hours you might stop in the doorway and casually ask if he wants to change his story. If you get a glare and a sullen “No!” just fade away and leave him alone. When he’s finally willing to admit he lied, issue a reasonable, appropriate consequence (grounding for a month is usually pretty extreme; missing a social event or staying off the computer or video games for a week or two will usually do the trick). If he never does admit it, sadly express your sorrow that he doesn’t trust you enough to be honest with you – and then issue the consequence anyway.

You will also want to have a conversation about how hard it will be for you to trust him in the future, but don’t make a federal case out of it. Keep giving him “second chances,” and make (casual) mention of your appreciation when he chooses honesty over lying. And remember this: if he does choose honesty, don’t discourage the behavior by “going off” on him. His response will be, “See? When I DO tell you the truth, you just freak out! What’s the point?” Encourage honesty by making it worth the effort, “Thanks for coming clean. Because you did, your consequence will be less than it would’ve been if you’d gone on lying to me.”

It’s too bad that Pinocchio nose-growing thing never panned out, isn’t it?

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

“I didn’t put that there!”  The agony in his voice was apparent; I could see by his expression that he knew the more he protested his innocence, the less I would believe him.  We were at a standoff, with all the evidence stacked against him.  If I didn’t handle this carefully, I would find myself in the very type of power struggle I strive to avoid.

This little drama had begun before school even started, when I’d had a chat with the young man – let’s call him Ted – about the recent rash of pranks and mischief he’d been involved in.  The discussion had gone well, and he’d assured me he could get himself under control, so I did not need to call for reinforcements (aka his parents).

Then after lunch, another young man – let’s call him Hank – came into class, laid his literature book on the table, and left to use the restroom.  When he returned, his book was missing.  Since he sits next to Ted, I confronted Ted directly, “Did you take his book and hide it as a prank?”  With great sincerity, Ted held up his hands and said, “I did not.  This time I really didn’t do it.”

We checked the name inside his book – yep, it said “Ted.”  We checked everybody else’s books.  I turned to Ted, gave him The Look, and asked again, “Are you sure you didn’t take his book to be funny?”  “I swear I didn’t!” he protested.  “You can even look in my backpack!”  With that, he unzipped his backpack, and we both leaned over to peer in.  At the bottom lay a familiar-looking book.  He pulled it out, opened the cover, and  – you guessed it.  It was Hank’s.

Hence the standoff.  On the one hand, I didn’t think Ted was dumb enough to claim to be innocent and then lead me right to the evidence that would convict him.  On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out any way for Hank’s book to get into his backpack unless he’d put it there.  We agreed to let it be a mystery for now, and to continue on with the class.

As soon as the period was over, one of the girls at the table squealed, “We’ve solved the mystery!”  When I heard the explanation, it all made sense.  Turns out the books had been accidentally swapped yesterday:  when Hank returned to his classroom, he’d taken Ted’s book with him.  Ted, in the meantime, grabbed what he thought was his book and put it in his backpack at the end of the day.

Then today, after Hank left to use the restroom, Ted spied the book on the table, checked the name inside the cover, and picked it up, not realizing he had another copy in his backpack.

There was relief all around, as you can imagine, and I was so glad I’d given Ted the benefit of the doubt rather than accusing him of what seemed like out-and-out lying.

The moral of the story is that we don’t always need to be quick to believe the worst.  Certainly kids lie, and we have to be ever-vigilant for dishonesty.  But sometimes it pays to take a step back, listen to the denial, and consider other possibilities.  This situation ended well, with Ted feeling like I’d treated him with respect, and with me feeling like I had been right to trust my instincts.

This time, at least.