Why Do Teens Lie?

Teen Rebelling against her parents

As our children grow into adolescents and young adults, their desire for more autonomy and responsibility increases. This is a challenging time for parents because they can no longer watch their teen’s every move! Frustrations can arise and questions may race through a parent’s head, especially if there is a rebellious teen at home.

Is my child lying? Did I not teach him or her to be honest?

These concerns are normal for parents to have and, interestingly enough, are part of a teen’s normal development! However, teen lying can have negative consequences if it occurs often or if it goes unnoticed by parents. A recent study showed that most high school students lie to their parents about drug and alcohol use and their sexual activity. In fact, around 96% of teens lie to their parents – generally by withholding relevant information. Mainly, teens lie to their parents to try to protect their relationship with their parents. They do not want to disappoint their parents and feel immature if they ask them for help.

Research indicates certain parenting styles can influence teens’ lying habits.

  • Teens who lie the most tend to be parented by permissive parents (parents who make low demands on their children). Permissive parents tend to not set rules, which can make adolescents feel like their parents don’t care about them, and their parents are not interested in providing guidance.
  • Authoritarian parents (extremely strict parents, who expect their children to follow the rules without discussion or compromise) tend to have teens who lie less frequently, but their teens are more depressed.
  • Authoritative parents (parents who carefully define limits for their children and are role models of the behavior they expect from their children) have high enforcing rules, but their teens tend to communicate more freely with them and lie less on major issues, like drug use, alcohol use, and where they have been.

Parents should offer consistent boundaries and consequential disciplinary action, while carefully considering each situation, and provide open lines of communication with their teens. The more parents allow their teens to be independent and the more parents provide guidance for their teens in decision-making situations, the less likely it will be that their teens will lie to them.

Additional Resources

Check out this resource to help encourage honesty and integrity in your children:
7 Steps to Encourage Honesty in Our Kids and Put an End to Lying

References

Bronson, P., & Merryman, A. (2011). Nurture Shock: New thinking about children. New York, NY: Twelve.

Darling, N., Cumsille, P., Caldwell, L. L., & Dowdy, B. (2006). Predictors of adolescents’ disclosure to parents and perceived parental knowledge: Between- and within-person differences. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35(4), 659-670.

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