Teens & Pre-teens Lying

Related Pages:  Stealing ... Lying in Younger Kids

Parent Q&A

13yo son lying Feb 1, 2020 (8 responses below)
13-year old son lies all the time Oct 25, 2017 (9 responses below)
10yr old and lying Nov 19, 2016 (6 responses below)
  • 13yo son lying

    (8 replies)

    I know it’s a common ask but I need help with my 13yo son and his lying.  He’s been lying for years and I think it’s getting progressively worse.  it seems to be to avoid getting in trouble, even though I praise him when he’s honest, I talk to him about the relationship consequences of lying, I’m calm and express my disappointment and hurt when he’s ‘caught’ in a lie, etc.  I can’t trust him even to walk the dog because tonight instead of walking the neighborhood he walked to 7-11 and tied the dog up outside (dog is young and can’t yet be left outside alone) - and lied about it until he was ‘caught' (the route he claimed to have walked had been blocked by construction work today.).  

    He’s seen a therapist before, for several months, not about lying but about poor behavior and effort at school - I though was helpful, my husband did not.  I’m considering scheduling sessions with his therapist again, but is it enough? I’ve seen recommendations about Clearwater for assessments and therapy/classes.  My concern about that is that he will think even more that there’s something ‘wrong’ with him.  But I also don’t want to miss clues that are telling us he needs extra support.  And to be even more of a stereotype we found out recently he’s vaping, even though he’s denied emphatically that he had not. I’m totally ok with my teens being teens; they need to mature and explore.  But how do I know when it’s beyond 'normal' typical development and whether my son needs extra support?  

    RE: 13yo son lying ()

    In my opinion and experience as a parent of teens and with many friends with teens, this is well beyond what is "normal," especially at 13. I think something is going on and I think you're wise to address it seriously. Your husband needs to get on board and if that particular therapist didn't work, find another one. Bear in mind that at 18 - just 5 short years away, you will not be able to make him do anything, or help him in real ways if he flounders badly. You won't have any power the day he turns 18. Trust me, I have friends who are facing this situation right now and are wishing they'd been more proactive when their child was a young teen.

    This is a site that is really helpful - www.empoweringparents.com.  There's a program but just reading everything on the site will be enlightening. It has helped me on several occasions, especially regarding lying.

    That said - I really really suggest you get him tested. He may have problems with impulse control, and there are therapies that can help. You may hear parents say this is standard teen behavior, but I have probably 50 teens in my life and the only 2 I know who do this were diagnosed with something (ADHD, bipolar, anxiety, depression in various combinations) that was not easy to spot by parents.

    Good luck. 

    RE: 13yo son lying ()

    I am really looking forward to the answers by our wonderful group.  My 16 year old son has the same problem.  I realized I can't even have a conversation with him because he will lie about his feelings, what he did, what he plans to do, his hopes & dreams.  It's really sad that we can't have a simple conversation.  We have lots of support with therapy, family therapy, and a supportive school environment.  

    RE: 13yo son lying ()

    Dear parent,

    Clearwater or something similar is a very good idea because your son can get assessed and also group therapy to better understand himself and realize that he’s not alone. Trust yourself and your instincts. Although each situation is unique, many families have gone through these sad situations. Group therapy can be incredibly effective. All the best.

  • 13-year old son lies all the time

    (9 replies)

    Seeking advice on 13 year old son who lies all the time.  When he is confronted about lying, he denies it even though all evidence points to it being a lie.  For example, he left pornography sites open on his younger sister's computer, but he denied it was him.  He lies about screen time when he is unsupervised and lies about completing assignments at school.  In the past we have punished him by taking away his electronics time or having him do special chores or pay fines as a restorative justice measure, but it does not seem to be working.  Because of the constant lying, we do not trust him and have restricted his unsupervised time.

    Is this a phase?  Should we schedule a visit with a therapist?  I appreciate any advice you can provide.

    Hi there,

    I want to recommend the book called I’d Listen to my Parents if They’d Just Shut Up: What to Say and What Not to Say When Parenting Teens, by Anthony Wolf. 

    He has a really helpful section on how to focus more on the original problematic behavior than on the lying. 

    I’be found the whole book helpful.

    Take care!

    Mom of two middle school boys  

    My son is 12 and we've seen an uptick in lying recently, though not as bad (yet) as you are experiencing. The tough part as a parent, is that you don't want them to internalize that they are a liar, but you need to call it out and address it. If my son gets to the stage yours is at, we will definitely get a therapist. A therapist can talk about lying in a more neutral way. Because it's only going to get worse. Things that seem to have helped us so far ... 1) we do not flip out (anymore) about lies. We talk about them quietly and we ask questions vs accuse. We search for the answer to, Why? We are open and nonjudgmental, as much as possible. 2) I recently explained how easy it is to lie those who love you. On a long drive, I talked about the corrosive effects of lying in adult relationships, and how easy it is for boyfriends/girlfriends and spouses to lie about huge things - because the people who love them deeply, desperately want to believe that they can TRUST the few people that they choose to love. It's not clever to lie to parents or lovers: It's the easiest thing in the world. A stranger would probably see through his lies, but those who love him can't so easily, because we are blinded by love. But that's what makes lying so terribly hurtful, so damaging, and such a betrayal. Lying also damages your own heart and mind. It changes you. That's why bravely telling the truth is the best path for yourself and those few people who truly LOVE you.  That message seems to have been really received. 

    Our oldest son began lying all the time at about the same age. I feel like it was born out of insecurity, and just continued to become a habit. No matter what we’ve said, or done, including punishment or just plain, “this has got to stop because we’ll never be able to trust you.”, bluntness stopped the behavior. 

    We finally did have him start seeing a therapist about 18 months ago, he’s now 20, and I think it’s helped a little bit, but lying is always  his first instinct. And ridiculous stories. Like, they make no sense, but he just can’t help himself. 

    My advice would be that if you feel like it’s not going to stop and it’s affecting your relationship negatively then you must get him to a therapist ASAP. I regret not going sooner. Mostly because I knew deep down he needed it, but just kept hoping he’d grow out of it, but also, now that hes over 18, I have far less control(is not really the right word, but it works)as far as therapy. I can’t make him go, although it is a condition for him to live at home now. And I can’t discuss his progress with the therapist as  easily. My son is very resistant to a session with us, well, because who knows what he’s told the therapist? 

    But I always go with the thought that if you think he needs it he should go. I’m worried our relationship with our son is irreversibly damaged. I’m hoping that in time we will be able to rebuild trust between us, and I feel like if we had started sooner we’d be in a better place now. 

    Take care. 

  • 10yr old and lying

    (6 replies)

    My 10yr old son is lying a lot.. and I'm not sure how to respond.  He often tells us that he's brushed his teeth, washed his face, etc.. when it's clear that he hasn't.  It seems like he just wants to get us off his back.. or continue doing whatever he's doing. 

    I understand the lying around stuff he's worried about getting in trouble for, like hitting his brother, or breaking something.  But I don't understand when he tells his music teacher that he's practiced 5 times that week.. bald-faced lie.  When I ask him about it, he insists that it's true and gets mad and defensive. 

    I've had serious talks with him about the importance of being honest and trustworthy.  This appears to have done nothing.  Has anyone else dealt with this successfully? 

    RE: 10yr old and lying ()

    Wow, this totally resonates with me.  My son is a teenager now and still has this problem.  He gets so angry when I confront him about the lies that it really feels like he actually believes what he's saying. I think a lot of it has to do with insecurity or low self-esteem. He creates this magic persona that he wishes he was (a straight A student, sports star, etc.) and lies to support it.  I think it's also partly a reaction to the fact I'm pretty demanding and controlling, unfortunately.  I don't have any great advice for you, except try not to be demanding or controlling? Frankly, punishments and consequences haven't worked that well for us.  

    RE: 10yr old and lying ()

    This is not meant to be alarming, but here it goes: Resonates here too, and I wish I would have taken more immediate and appropriate measures because that was among the first signs I saw that something was truly wrong with my son's thought processes. Starting at age 10, he'd make things up for absolutely no reason ("I had an apple for snack" I had never asked what he had for snack and there wasn't an apple in the house), as well as was harming his brother, refusing to attend school or leave the house, and ignoring all personal hygiene. I thought this was "just a stage", and looked up that the best approach is to make sure that there is nothing to lie about. We tried counseling but he just refused to go. At this point he was hiding his extreme distress, most likely due to fear.

    Fast forward a few years, he has been away for more than a year in hospitalizations and residential treatment for depression, anxiety, homicidal and suicidal ideation, mood-related psychosis, and just recently discovered ASD. To say that this is hell would be to put it VERY lightly.

    If I had it all to do again, I would have him assessed by BOTH the school district and the medical provider for ALL disabilities you can possibly think of and get moving now on treatment if the assessments reveal a disability/ies. 

    What I've discovered is that when kids hit about this age, the rules, clues and cues become so much more subtle and it is expected that they will just catch on or have already figured out how to navigate the social/emotional world. The kids on the spectrum and other related disabilities start to level out or regress in their social/emotional development and then their behavior becomes affected because they know they are not understanding the world in the same way that their peers are. It's frustrating and alienating. True, punishments and consequences don't work with kids on the spectrum.

    Good luck. Get him help through expert clinical evaluations and go through the proper school district channels and procedures (see DREDF to start) to get funded for supports if needed. I miss my son so much.

    RE: 10yr old and lying ()

    Stop putting him on the spot. Don't ask if he brushed his teeth; go in the bathroom together and brush teeth together. Tell the teacher to ask you about practicing, not him. Most people will lie if they are put on the spot. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


14-year-old with serious lying habit

Oct 2010

Hi, My step-daughter, 14, has developed a serious lying habit. ( she lives with us full time) It has been a long standing issue with her, but lately it seems to be that she is lying about anything and almost everything. She lies about big stuff...money that missing, who she is meeting to hang out with on Shattuck etc...and about stupid stuff that she get is trouble over only because it is a lie. She will walk away from us after having asked to do something, like call a friend, and if we have said no ( because of being grounded) she sneaks the call anyway. Then finds herself grounded for longer, or losing a planned activity over a seemingly small infraction. But because they come in such close progression and so often we end up extending her consequences. We need some more ideas about how to deal in the moment with her, and in the long term. We tend to just ground her...which in turn im sure makes her feel like she has to lie more, because she ends up being so restricted.

She is in general a good kid, but gets on these downward spirals more and more these days. She has some transitions lately.....started high school, new siblings, new step-father.But, her home life with her father and i has been stable since she was 4.

We are tired of grounding her, and of her behavior, and she is tired of being grounded. We have pretty open lines of communication about it....when she has ''snapped out of it'' she can talk with us about it and yet she just cant change her behavior in the moment. So, is this some sort of new developmental phase? Is she becoming a pathological lier? Is our plan of responding to every lie, no matter how small, making it worse, or helping to curb it in the long run? She thinks that because she in not having sex or using drugs her behavior is not that bad....even the lying. We feel that it is just a matter of time, that if she is lying about things now, she will be lying about sex and drugs soon enough. Any advice welcomed...and any recommendation for family therapists also welcome. worried step mom

Lying - trying out how to act and fool - what one can get away with - asserting independence by getting parents off your back - indirect disrespect for others to make yourself look smarter for yourself (Low self-esteem covered up with lies always backfires! Time will ensure that). It can be all of the above. If you have a complicated family situation, I would also add the attention giving component of lying once caught. ''Hey, if you are too busy with your life to notice/acknowledge when I'm doing/behaving well, I'll get your attention by messing up and getting you worried. Bad attention is better than nothing and shows my power over you. And I feel more powerful with every lie you discover and get mad/worried about me, because I never learned to build my self-esteem any other way. I had little control over the events in my life and I am making you pay back now: what it feels like to not have control over someone elses actions!'' A very counter-productive line of thought, but could be partially true. My daughter would do tryout lying at 12 years of age and when caught, concluded ''Just kidding!'' I kept repeating that joking is when two people laugh, not just one and I'm not laughing! It took a few months combined with clear warnings and a clear demand for her to respect us just like we should respect her, and she switched back to truth. She even admits her fault now when it could work agaginst her. However, I don't punish for truth. If something got messed up, I thank her for her honesty and we immediately move forward to look for the best solution.

In your case, the teen needs to be crystal clear why it is so appealing to lie and you need to find a way together how the teen can get this appealing feeling in even more quantities in a more productive way with nothing but good feedback. Otherwise, what's the incentive to change? Anonymous

Oh man, this is the EXACT situation I was in a few years ago with my stepdaughter. Very similar situation, all was good and then small lies started and then larger and larger until everything was a lie. It was so upsetting because she could sit there and have a great talk with me and cry and hug and later I would find out it was a lie. I was ready to give up.

It all came to a head when she let out to her teacher at school she had been molested years earlier by her bio mom's dad and had been told by her biomom mot to tell anyone. It was a sticky web of lies that her mom had created and even she tried to lie to authorities. A few years later our SD got involved with a much older man and we had him arrested (we had no clue - you would be surprised how much they can cover up). Because she was a victim of crime we got a referral to Clearwater Counseling in Oakland. They were phenomenal. They deal very well with teens and parents and looked into some borderline personality disorders (look it up, you may see some traits you recognize). We don't think my SD has it but that her mom does and she was picking up on it. The have some groups that deal very specifically with the lying, manipulation, attention getting behaviors and were so caring and helpful. She was able to see more clearly why she lied and how to control the urge to do so. I can't recommend it enough. Demi and Rachel were great. I was at the end of my rope I can't tell you how that kind of behavior can destroy family relationships and Clearwater intervened and saved our family. If you have more questions feel free to message me directly.

Pre-teen lying

July 2007

My child is nearly 12. She's been lying a lot over the past 6 months, mostly around issues of schoolwork and misplaced or damaged items (primarily clothing). I've always followed the general advice to make clear that consequences for lying will be more serious than for the mistake or wrongdoing at issue. In other words, I didn't want her to be so afraid of the punishment that she'd lie to avoid it. There's never been any corporal punishment; consquences have revolved around TV-watching restrictions. Only about a month ago did I start curtailing playdates and overnights with friends.

I've talked to her about each incident, why she lied instead of telling the truth (''I don't know'' is the most consistent response) and she always promises not to lie any more. That lasts until the next thing (sometimes only days later). I am at a loss to know what to do.

I feel I should add that I feel that at some point my daughter has to learn to deal with the consequences of actions -- that sometimes in life people will get angry at her for something she's done or not done. The consequences of mistakes or forgetting do get more serious. A future employer, for example, isn't going to worry about scaring her if he or she is angry because she's missed a deadline or lost a key document.

I'd appreciate suggestions on how to handle both the lying and guiding my daughter in learning to deal with... well, frankly, life. Worried Mom

I would be concerned about what is going on with her school activities, friendships, activities that might be influencing her. I know that I started a down-hill trend in the 8th grade; got involved with who I thought were the ''cool'' kids, started cutting classes, skipped piano lessons, etcetera. I ended up dropping out of high school and I won't even go into what trouble I ultimately got in to. The point is, is your daugher lying because she's going through a phase? Or is she lying because she's being influenced by peer pressure and other things at school? The end result is that you need to be mindful that her lying might not be something simple, that it might require you to get more involved with what's going on with her -- and that her lying might be a lot more than simply ''lies'' -- it might have to do with what she's getting involved with in her school life. On the bright side, maybe she's just acting out, and you should just be strict but open to communication (which you must be, no matter what she's going through). Good luck. Anon

This looks like a perfect place to use ''love and Logic'' techniques. I don't actually like the techniques for my child (who is 6), but the techniques really deal with the natural consequences of choices,and really work to get your child to understand responsibility. Just google love and logic. They have a book, an email that comes out every week, and apparently they have a session that you can attend. A friend of mine loves it. good luck

I wonder if there isn't something else going on with your daughter. Have you gone down the ''check list?'' Unusual stressors, changes in the home, school, or any other event or situation that could cause this reaction? I bet she is a pretty sweet kid... anon

6th grader lying

Oct 2006

We're catching our daughter, a 6th grader, lying a lot lately. Mostly, she's lying to try to avoid getting in trouble for something she's done that she knows is wrong or about homework. What's been a little disturbing, is how easily she does it. She doesn't seem to think twice about it-- there is no hesitation. We've done some reflecting about how we might be contributing to the problem and over the last several weeks have tried to make sure we don't overreact to issues, one of the ways we thought we might be contributing to it. Rather than get better, it only got worse. We think we're catching her most of the time, but who knows. Any ideas? I'd love to hear from parents who found things that worked. Oakland parent

I went through this myself around that age, and it drove my parents crazy (and eventually got me in big trouble and I was put in therapy for a year). Over the years I have tried to understand it, and I think it was both a desire to avoid getting in trouble (which was a big deal in our household) and an inability to admit mistakes. I can't say I outgrew it easily, I think it would have helped tremendously to have parents who tried to really understand the behavior. So my only advice is keep trying to find ways to make it easier for your daughter to tell you the truth, especially if she has made a mistake. Try to examine how you react when you make a mistake - do you admit it to her, let her see how you take responsibility for it?

Lying can become second-nature, and it's not a healthy habit to develop. Try to talk with your daughter about how it makes her feel to lie, and how it would be different if she could be honest. Ask her what would help her be comfortable being honest with you.

My parents tried the approach of making me ''earn back'' their trust. I think that backfired somewhat, I just felt on the defensive all the time. Only an environment of trust will foster a child's honesty, and you will need to find a way to punish her for specific lies (however you do that) without resorting to calling her a ''liar'' or telling her that you don't believe anything she says anon