Good Methods for Teaching Teenagers Not to Lie

by Cynthia Measom

    Teenagers often lie as they struggle for their independence, according to Hal Thorsrud, assistant professor of philosophy at Agnes Scott College, in an article on the ABC news website. Whether it's a one-time occurrence or a habit, use your teen's lie as an opportunity to teach him the importance of telling the truth. Your actions -- from the way you uncover the reasons for his dishonesty to the consequences you deliver -- can serve as effective lying deterrents to your teen.

    Set a Good Example

    If you occasionally engage in a lie, and your teen knows it, you can't expect your child to not lie. As a parent, it's important to set the right example for your teen. If you find that you must lie, such as to avoid hurting someone's feelings or to protect someone from harm, explain the circumstances to your teenager. For example, tell your teen that lying is morally wrong, but in certain instances, people choose tell a lie for a good cause. Give your teen examples of when someone might lie for a good cause such as if the consequences of the truth were that someone would come to harm.

    Uncover Your Teen's Motivation

    Knowing why your teen lied is the key to deciding how to handle her dishonesty. For example, a teen who is lying to get attention won't respond as well to the same strategy you use with a teen who is lying to avoid getting into trouble. Sit down with a child who repeatedly lies to find out why she's lying. Be as nonconfrontational as you can and ask her, "What kind of problems are you having that make you want to avoid telling the truth? How can I help you?" Listen closely to her response to help you pinpoint her motivation for lying.

    Show Your Disappointment

    According to Tim Jordan, a behavioral pediatrician, in an article on the ABC news website, an effective deterrent to lying is to allow your teen to feel shame and regret over a lie she told. The experience of feeling guilt and remorse can make a teen think twice before lying again. For example, if you discover that your teen lied to you about her whereabouts because she thought you wouldn't approve, tell her you are disappointed in her decision to lie to you. Explain to her that she has broken your trust and she will have to earn it back by being truthful.

    Explore Why Honesty is Important

    Consider the circumstances that surround your teenager's lie. Avoid lecturing to your teen about morals, because he might tune you out. Instead, ask your child probing questions to help him understand why it's important to be honest. For example, if your child steals money from the cash register of your business, but tells you that he doesn't know anything about it, his lie leaves you no choice but to consider your employees as suspects. When you find out that your teen lied, ask him how he feels about the way he caused you to suspect employees of the theft and your employees' shock and embarrassment at being considered suspects. Ask him how he would feel if someone did that to him, as a business owner or an employee. Make him consider why honesty is the best choice.

    Enact Appropriate Consequences

    Decide on consequences that fit the behaviors. In some instances, you might need to enact a consequence for the misbehavior and a consequence for lying. For example, if your teen tells you frequently that he's finished with his homework and you find out from his teacher that he hasn't been turning in his assignments, you can restrict all after-school activities for a time, such as week, as a consequence for not doing his homework. You can also require him to show you his completed homework, until you believe you can trust him.

    About the Author

    Cynthia Measom wears many hats. She's a writer and the owner and accountant of a nanny placement agency she founded in 2007. Measom received her B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin in 1997. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in business administration with a concentration in human resources.

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