Parental Coping Tips When Your Teen is a Compulsive Liar

Let’s face it, how many of us can say we’ve never told even a little white lie to spare someone’s feelings?

While we may all be guilty of embellishing or telling outright untruths at some point, it can become a serious concern when we’re faced with a teen who is a compulsive liar.

Most children begin to tell fibs around the same time they learn how to talk, mainly because they want to avoid getting into trouble, or because they want something from you and know that a small lie might be the way to accomplish this.

Addressing their propensity for stretching the truth as soon as you can is an important part of ensuring they don’t get into trouble as they grow up. A young child who lies is frustrating, but a teenager who lies could be hiding bad choices and behaviors.

Why is your teen lying?

As is the case with toddlers and young children, most of the lies teens tell are intended to protect themselves from getting into trouble. They may cover for a sibling or a friend with a lie. This is normal for most of us, and while it’s not pleasant, it shouldn’t be seen as a red flag.

Your teen is looking to avoid serious conflict, get attention, or protect themselves and their privacy. It’s when you start to recognize the signs of compulsive lying, manipulation, and a sense of simply not caring about the consequences of not telling the truth.

Some teens may tell lies to cover up their behavior, particularly if they are doing drugs or looking to control and manipulate their parents or teachers.

The concerns of not addressing lies earlier

When your toddler tells a fib, you may tell him that it’s not nice to lie but may not explain to him just why he should be telling the truth. The sooner you address the habit of telling lies in a child, the better odds you have of him understanding the consequences of not telling the truth.

Telling the truth is about more than facing the consequences of behavior or actions. It is about respect, and it’s about trust. Taking a hard line when your children are younger can be helpful to a degree. If you threaten or punish too severely, however, you run the risk of simply reinforcing their drive to hide the truth. He may even double down on his efforts to conceal the truth from you.

Teaching your children from a young age that telling the truth is about respecting themselves and those around them can be a good start. Explaining that telling the truth is more likely to earn trust and help to maintain friendships and relationships. Children and teens who are compulsive liars may lose their friends and damage the relationship they have with their parents.

Consequences and taking away privileges for a while can be an excellent way to address lies.
Teens who grow up understanding that their lies don’t ultimately get them the results they want are much less likely to lean on telling those lies as their way out. Teens who don’t have this foundation for the truth have the potential to simply tell lies when it suits them.

Telling lies for the sake of telling lies

What do you do if it seems like your teen is telling lies just because he can?

If he’s not trying to keep himself from getting into trouble, why is he doing it?

Why is he not telling the truth?

You may notice that he lies about things that seem unimportant. He may add odd embellishments to a story about something that happened at school or about something that happened between him and a sibling. When this happens, stop him. Ask him why he’s adding these embellishments.

You may not get an answer from him. He may just roll his eyes and shrug. By addressing that, you recognize he’s not truthful. You are letting him know that you’re aware of when he is lying to you. Don’t yell or berate. Approach him with a logical conversation and a firm voice that reminds him of the importance of telling the truth.

What can you do to cope?

It’s frustrating. It makes you angry. It’s hurtful. When your teen is constantly telling lies and trying to manipulate you, you may feel that you’re out of options for steering his behavior in the right direction.

Tips to help you cope with a compulsive liar:

  • Keep calm, get to the truth. While some teens may be compulsive liars because they are deliberately trying to manipulate you, many untruths are rooted in fear. Threatening your teen is likely going to see them putting up their defenses. Keeping yourself calm will allow you to approach the situation in a kind, safe and logical way. If your teen feels you are genuinely listening, he is more likely to tell you the truth.
  • Reinforce the importance of trust. Your teen should feel comfortable knowing that you will always love him, no matter what he goes through. Whether he’s in over his head using drugs or drinking, or he’s done something else you wouldn’t approve of. He should know that he can trust you, trust you to love him unconditionally, and know that you will trust him once you’re confident he’s not telling outright lies.
  • Considering trauma. Compulsive lies may be rooted in trauma. If your teen has gone through challenges or is currently going through difficulties, the lies may be founded in the trauma. Compulsive lies can be a way to protect himself or to cover up feelings of fear or shame. Getting your teen help can prove beneficial. Therapy is a good place to start.

Compulsive liars can also be struggling with their mental health. Getting your teen the help that he needs could get him back on the truthful path. His lies won’t just impact him. They have the potential to take a toll on other members of the family. There is also the risk of poor behavior and lies leading to trouble at school or with the law.

Your teen may not understand just how harmful his lies can be. This is your opportunity to remind your troubled teen that not understanding is not an excuse to continue the behavior. Speak to him about what honesty and dishonesty look like and how they impact relationships with those around us.

Teens can often benefit from being removed from a situation that encourages them to tell lies and take part in other poor behaviors. School and peers can prove to be negative influences and can often be the source of stress that results in those lies.

A residential treatment center provides your teen with the opportunity to address his mental health concerns in an environment that is safe, structured and offers gentle guidance to help him figure out why the compulsive lies are his go-to.

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