Question of the Month: Handling Lying and Creating Boundaries

Q: Our 15 years old teen is always lying to us-about cleaning his room, finishing his homework, playing video games, and spending time with friends. We are at our limit! How should we handle it? (SK, London, UK)

A: Adolescence can be rough. Teens are trying to fit in with peers, struggling with control of their life or feeling unfairly judged by others. For some, lying can be a way to handle these challenges. Therapist Megan Devine argues in this piece that most teens lie because it seems to them like the best decision at that time. For parents, an occasional lie by their offspring is nothing to get too worried about while regular lying should be addressed. Devine recommends that we first understand what they are hoping to gain from fibbing, so we can help them come up with a better way to handle the issue. 

For example, if your teen told you that he cleaned up his room but was really playing a video game (and was afraid to tell you), it may help you to understand why the lying happened in the first place. Clearly state your family rules and the consequences for breaking them (but avoid lecturing about all the reasons why he lied). Your son doesn’t have to like the house rules, but he needs to stick to them. More importantly, you need to enforce the consequences. 

By creating consequences, you send a powerful message to your teen that lying won’t get them what they want. By avoiding lecturing and moralizing (which I admit is hard to do), we prevent them from tuning out. Per Megan Devine, if your teen is making a habit of lying, you need to ask what he may be trying to solve. For example, is he trying to avoid certain consequences, or does he think it’s easier to lie than disappoint someone or upset them? Does it help him to fit in or have control? Finally, teens need boundaries and guidance. However, being over-zealous with controls and monitoring can lead to lies. For more thoughts on creating boundaries, and talking to teens see the following piece: