What to Do When Your Teen Son is a Compulsive Liar

When you discover your son is lying to you, it can raise your hackles and alarm. You may feel a sense of betrayal, followed by a surge of worry. What else is he lying about?

It’s hard to rest easy when you don’t trust your troubled teenage son. His lying can prompt you to worry about his whereabouts. It can make you stress over whether you’ve imparted a proper sense of right and wrong, allowing him to make safe and responsible choices.

So what’s a parent to do when they’re on the receiving end of filial dishonesty?

Try Not To Overreact When Your Teen Lies

Take a deep breath. Research shows the majority of teens lie to their parents. Oberlin College professor Nancy Darling--who’s spent years studying teens and lying--reckons the number at 98 percent.

Might doesn’t make right, so you should continue to emphasize the importance of honesty. The stats, however, point to lying as a developmental norm. It just might stop you from giving up on your teen as well as your parenting skills.

Look For The Cause Of Your Teen’s Lies

Understanding why your son is lying may keep you from feeling hurt, allowing you to discipline him in a more cool-headed way. Teens most commonly lie because they:

  • Are trying to protect a friend or family member
  • Consider your rules unreasonable and their behavior harmless
  • Hope to engage in a forbidden activity
  • Want to get out of trouble and avoid disapproval

Sometimes your teen may seem to lie for no reason at all. Experts in adolescent development say that even arbitrary lies are an attempt to secure the independence they increasingly desire. Your son may lie to emphasize that his life is his own.

Some Lies Point To Low Self-Esteem

When your son lies to feel more important,.he’s likely suffering from low self-esteem. If you notice your teen lying in a bid for attention, let him know you’re aware he’s being dishonest. Rather than shaming him, discuss why honesty is healthier. When kids fail to tell the truth, they’re often:

  • Ashamed and fearful they’ll be found out
  • Confused about lies they’ve told, making their fabrications hard to sustain
  • Doubly-punished, both for misbehavior and for lying about it
  • Lonely, because lying can destroy friendships.

You might also remind him, “When you lie, it makes it hard for me to trust you and it damages our relationship.”

Next, brainstorm ways he can develop more confidence. If your troubled teen son claimed he has a black belt in karate, consider enrolling him in a martial arts class where, with hard work and focus, he can excel.

Some Situations Call For Complete Honesty

Stress that you expect total honesty when it comes to risky behavior like:

  • Cutting class and ignoring homework
  • Reckless driving
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Self-harm or an eating disorder
  • Using alcohol and drugs

If your son is lying to cover up a serious problem, you may want to consider sending him to a residential treatment center for troubled teenage boys.

Don’t Call Your Son A Liar

Even if your son has been lying, don’t call him a liar. Criticize the action, not your son.

Name-calling is hurtful at any age, particularly if it’s endured at the hands of family. When we give negative labels to our children--liar, thief, lazy,crazy--the harm continues long after the turbulence of the teen years. We all have an inner critic, who seeks to protect us from trouble by nagging us into good behavior. If people we love call us names, our inner critic will present as a lifetime of negative self-talk.

Calling your kid a liar also gives him little incentive to change. He’s likely to say, “My parents think I’m a liar anyway. Why should I bother telling the truth?”

Create An Atmosphere Where Honesty Pays Off

Cultivate an atmosphere in your home where honesty pays off, starting by making sure you want to hear the truth.

You suspect your son is drinking at parties. When he confirms your fears, you fly off the handle-, screaming, crying and threatening to ground him for life. This kind of drama will ensure he never again tells the truth.

A more measured response would be more effective at curbing the unwanted behavior while strengthening your connection with your son. Tell him you’re disappointed he’s been drinking, but you appreciate his honesty. Reiterate the dangers of underage drinking and then emphasize he should call you for a ride if he or a designated driver has ever been drinking.

Your teen is also more likely to be honest if you set reasonable consequences.
Let’s say your son has ditched some classes, putting his grades at risk. When he comes clean, you shout your disapproval, yank his computer from his room and ground him for the rest of the year.

There’s no doubt your son’s truancy is a problem, but overreacting will make it less likely he’ll tell you the truth in the future. It would be more effective to set reasonable consequences, like forbidding your son to use electronics before he’s shown you his finished homework.

Leave Room For Negotiation

You might want to consider allowing for discussion on your edicts. Let’s say you’ve told your son he can’t date until he’s 15. A couple months before his birthday, he and a girl at school develop feelings for one another.

If he asks that an exception be made, hear out his arguments. Leaving wiggle room doesn’t mean you’re abdicating your right to set rules. You can take the opportunity to have “The Talk” again and set ground rules regarding things like curfew.

If your son continues lying to you, you may want to consider sending him to a residential treatment center for troubled teen boys. At Liahona Academy, we provide the therapeutic and academic support students need to move past their challenges and onto a bright future. Contact us to learn more.

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