Lying: Why She Does It and What It Means

Lies can send a jab of pain through the heart of a parent as swiftly and directly as a knife itself. You try to raise your child to be trustworthy, and you try to show her that so long as she is honest, the two of you can always work things out. Yet girls tend to lie as teens. Why is that? It's a complicated mix of pushing limits and — believe it or not — not wanting to let you down.

She's Testing You

Some lies are like little feelers — put out there to test not only how much she can get away with, but also if you are paying attention and if you have her back. Let's say your daughter has been allowed to walk to the corner playground for a while now, with the understanding that she'll always be with a friend and only go there and back. One day, you drive your car around a corner and see her in a car driving away. When she gets home, you ask her about the playground and she says “It was boring. Same old thing.” While she may have been tempted by the car ride and feared you would not let her, she could also be lying to test you.

That's why your best response is to give her a chance to make good. “Are you sure you didn't do anything else or go anywhere else? Because if you did, it is best if you tell me now” is a good response and a chance for her to come clean.

Fact

Molding the truth to fit your needs is as common as the cold. Don't lose your mind, but don't be accepting of it either. React firmly, but with sensitivity too. She's only human.

If she does come clean with a lie, respond positively, but point out that she cannot lie again because losing trust has its consequence. If she continues to lie, simply say “I know you got in a car and drove away and for now, I can no longer let you go to the playground until I can trust you.” You may also want to suggest that, as she grows into wanting to do new activities (beyond the playground, so to say) she should communicate them with you. She might be surprised, with honesty, at what you might trust her to do.

You also need to show her that you have her on your radar screen. It's hard for teen girls to resist temptation and new adventures. By showing her she “cannot get away with the lie,” you may help her make a better decision.

Avoiding Disappointment

Some girls lie to avoid disappointing their parents. Particularly with girls who are high achievers, the idea of being merely human in their parent's eyes might be too much to bear. And so, if they “misstep,” they look to cover up and lie, rather than disappoint you. It's not easy work to convince said girl that you love her for all she is — faults and glory. Just keep trying. And point out that the disappointment of being lied to is much harder to bear than any mistake she may make. Remind her she's only human.

With girls who are looking not to disappoint, you may want to encourage by example. Show her mistakes you've made recently, and how being honest about them worked out better. Make a deal: as long as she is honest, things will work out. And any time she does lie, always give her the chance to admit it before you accuse her of the lie. “Are you sure you were only at the playground? Because if you did go somewhere else without telling me, you can tell me now.” Coming clean, really, is as good as telling the truth in the first place, and your reaction will help her gain confidence to be honest next time. With coming clean, there may still be a punishment, but like life in general, she who confesses gains empathy. It is important to note, too, that persistent lying may be a sign of a serious problem, such as substance abuse (more on drugs in Chapter 12).

Alert

Teens can be like toddlers in some ways, and lying is one of them. Sometimes a teen truly believes if she says something enough, it will eventually be the truth. Maturity means understanding life does not work that way.

Cooling Down Heated Conversations

It can happen from both sides. You start out talking about something seemingly benign, and suddenly you are in a heated disagreement with your daughter. Dousing water rather than gasoline on these situations is your job first, and hers second.

Predicting Abruptions

Your daughter's communication abruptions could be cyclical. Sure, there's the whole hormonal thing, but beyond that, like anyone in life, loss of patience or the ability to communicate well can surround major life moments. Finals, tryouts for a team, prom season, and other similarly intense times are ripe for a girl's ability to reason to fly out the window. It might be a good idea if you, as a parent, heed these scheduled events and use your powers of calm communication even more so during these times. True, there is no excuse for rudeness, lies, or other such things, but showing your daughter that you understand that stress can cause duress may help her deal with it better.

Question

Isn't the parent always right?

Much as you'd like to believe that, there will be times when you are actually wrong. Admitting it and helping fix the situation shows your own honesty in communication.

You Don't Have to Settle It Now

Remember, anything can be (and probably should be) put off until cooler minds prevail. You'll want to teach this to your daughter by example. Should you find yourselves at each other's throats, take a step back, end the conversation, and pick it up when you can both be rational. Teens don't always like this; they're in a bad mood and want to lash out at you. Refuse to engage. But don't let it go forever. Every conflict must have some kind of resolution, and dropping it while mad and never picking it up again will only teach your daughter denial.

When you do put something aside to cool down, tell your daughter it is not going away and you'll be picking it up as soon as you are both rational. Don't give her the chance to act out more. Rather, coax her into reading or sitting quietly in her room until you can both talk reasonably. Those taking further the heated conversations are the ones you can end up thinking “What were we fighting about in the first place?” That is a waste of time and more scar tissue on a relationship that needs to stay healthy.

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