Teens & Pre-teens Lying

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Parent Q&A

  • 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. 

    Have the same problem. Don't know what to do. Seems pathological. Open to suggestions.

    If your son's lies are primarily around screen time, Internet use, pornography, and claiming homework is done in order to spend time with screens, your son's main issue may be a video game/Internet addiction. The proposed DSM-V criteria for this disorder include:

    • Preoccupied with video games or the Internet
    • Withdrawal symptoms, e.g., irritability, kids get quite angry when limits are set
    • Demands to use more and more time
    • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to get your kid to cut back
    • Lied/deceived family about use of games or the internet
    • Kids' screen/phone problems have damaged family relationships and/or hurt academics

    If you believe your son is addicted, I encourage you to seek mental health treatment with a child and family counselor who can meet with your son and parent(s),

    This really alarms me, because not only is he visiting porn sites, it sounds like he is aggressively leaving them open for his younger sister to find. To me, this is sexually predatory behavior, and I would be extremely concerned. It sounds to me like he is screaming for help. I don't think this is a matter of punishment as restorative justice, but of finding out if something happened to him that has led to him acting out. 

    IMO you should definitely see a therapist, and be extremely cautious about your younger child. This is not normal behavior for a 13 year old. They're difficult, but this is different. Try to look at the lying as a symptom of a deeper problem troubling him and get to the bottom of it. 

    The replies to your post have all been thoughtful: there was some really good advice given, especially those that were geared toward responding calmly and nonjudgmental to lying. Some early, targeted therapeutic intervention for your son also sounds like a good idea. This may help him to uncover what's motivating the lying, and could also help you to uncover what else may be going on. It's about supporting him to grow and develop into someone who feels solid enough that he doesn't need to lie reflexively. We all tell lies, little ones here and there, and/but lying habitually can become a real impediment to leading a healthy, happy life. Based on my own experience with my teenage daughter, there may also be some work to do within your family. Often, we'll see some undesirable quality crop up in our child, and then this son or daughter becomes the "identified patient," the one with the problem. In fact, while working with the child directly, the therapist will often recommend exploring what it is in the family system as a whole that is driving the behavior. Ultimately, dealing with the whole family system, in addition to treating the child himself/herself, will help set the stage for understanding and growth. It takes courage to admit something like this and to seek help. I wish you, your family and your son bravery. Take the steps to address this now. You won't regret it.

    Teenage boys are confused, frightened, and ashamed by their own impulses. In order for him to be more honest about porn and masturbation, he has to first be honest and open with himself--he first needs to understand these impulses. 

    As far as lying about screen time: maybe you should not have rules that you cannot enforce. If nobody is home to watch a teenager, he will most likely play video games or watch TV. If you know your son with go to the computer as soon as his parents leave the house, find an alternate solution or simply allow him screen time. Also, it sounds like your internet could use a content filter.

    I'm kind of surprised you got advice to see a therapist because your 13 year old is lying about looking at porn and spending too much time on video games. I am a parent of three boys, my youngest is 16 and the older ones are now out on their own. What you are describing sounds very normal to me for a teen boy. My boys at this age would rather play video games than eat, certainly they'd prefer it to doing chores or homework. And they would maximize their screen time whenever they had the chance.  You just have to decrease the opportunities. For example no screens in the bedroom, and avoid long stretches of time at home alone. I think threats and punishments are not as effective, given the limitations of the teenage brain. They really crave the excitement and risk they get from video games, and it can be hard for them to resist.  

    As for looking at porn: teen boys look at porn, that's a fact, and they do not want to discuss it with their mom. Even my grown-up husband is incredibly embarrassed by the topic and reluctant to discuss it. So it's not unusual that your son lied about this. He wants to preserve his dignity. Teenagers are also very careless about covering their tracks, just as they are careless about everything else.  I'm sure your son didn't intend for anyone else to see it, but he was not careful, and he probably feels terrible about that. I remember the first time I found porn on the family computer when my oldest son was about 14. He was horrified that I had seen it. I did not ask him if it was his. I pretended that I didn't know how the porn got on the computer. I called an impromptu family meeting with him and his brother, and I said I found some porn on the computer, so I wanted to let them know what the rules are about this. First I gave them my canned speech about how porn debases and objectifies women (which they had both heard before) and then I told them that I "heard on BPN" that teen boys look at porn, and I'm not saying they can't, but I personally do not ever want to see porn popping up on my computer again. And I didn't after that!  (Although I did find a gross magazine under the mattress a few years later when the oldest son went off to college...)

    This age is very aggravating for parents. Thirteen is the worst!  They are trying to figure out how to be adults and they have adult-like hormones and impulses though they are still basically children. It can be very difficult to navigate as a parent. It's good to set rules and expectations, especially around how much screen time you're willing to allow. But I do think it's just as important to let him save face sometimes, even when you both know he was in the wrong.  This will help you build the relationship you want to have when your son is older and on into young adulthood.  A sense of humor helps a lot too.

    Good luck!

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  • 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. 

    RE: 10yr old and lying ()

    My family went through this with our oldest daughter.  What worked for us was to focus less on the lying and more on the behavior at issue.  So, focus on brushing teeth, washing face, etc.  With my daughter, we sat down and talked about the behaviors and asked her to help figure out a plan.  Like, "We all need to brush our teeth, so what can you do to make sure you are taking care of this?" Usually my daughter's suggestions were more restrictive than what we would have come up with.  We also talked about consequences and had her help identify what would happen if she didn't do whatever we were addressing.  The model was a problem solving one rather than a rule following one with all of us on the same team.  The only time the lying came up was when she would ask for something that required us to trust her, then we would address the impact of the lies on our trust, and figure out what she could do to help us trust her again.  I would also encourage you to think about what is really worth a power struggle.  I'm pretty sure my kids went through long periods of time not taking care of personal hygiene, and they are reasonably healthy, presentable kids with friends who don't mind being around them.  But, then again, they had no major dental/health issues.  Good luck!  I remember how hard it was to deal with my daughter lying until I figured out a way to deal with it that felt right to me.

    RE: 10yr old and lying ()

    I have an 8 year old that we've experienced similar things with. Like you, I totally get why he night lie to get out of trouble, but why tell your teacher you're feeding your (non-existent!) pet every day? Any why, when you get a disappointed talking-to when you don't drink enough water, would you tell me you didn't drink anything today when you actually drank a whole bottle of water? That's a lie to get INTO trouble when you actually did something well!

    We take a 2 pronged approach because we want to teach and reinforce the behavior we want, demonstrate the very real life consequences of people not trusting you when you lie, AND we know that for our kid, acting out is most often a sign of emotional turmoil (usually clearly linked to a significant emotional event in his life). So we look for an address the underlying emotional issues that are going on, which is the key really. So first really look into why your child does this: is he needing more attention? Upset over being left out in a friend group at school? Worn out from not getting enough sleep?

    To specifically address the lying, what we most recently tried was starting a "trust board". We started by listing all of the things that we need to trust him for, that maybe when he was younger he needed supervision but now we trust him to do it without us there. He contributed to the list. Our list includes things like washing hands after using the toilet, brushing and flossing teeth, going over to a neighbor's house to play and coming home in time for dinner, bringing candy to school (he was allowed to eat a treat with his lunch IF he eats all the healthy food, too), screen time (watching/playing appropriate things), etc. Make sure that the things he's been lying about are on the list, as well as privileges he has that require trust.

    Next, we had him order them from most to least important to him- screen time he put at the top, washing hands at the bottom. This is all on a large white board in our living room. From there, we said something like, "these are all things we trust you with, but lately you've been lying so much we don't know when to believe you and can't trust you. When you break someone's trust, it takes a lot to earn it back, and you never know how long it will take. This will give you a little idea of what that's like. For now, we will supervise reach thing on this board. We will watch to make sure you wash your hands/brush your teeth well, etc. Nothing is being taken away- you still can have screen time, you just need a parent there to supervise while you do; you still can play with friends, it just has to be at our house or arranged with the friend's parent so they know when to send you home. Then, for every time your honest when it's hard to be honest (I hit my brother, forgot my homework at school, etc), you get one point on the board. For each 10 points, you earn back one unsupervised privilege until you earn them all back and show us we can really trust you."

    This way, there's a consequence for lying- losing freedoms and some enjoyable things happening less often if we aren't able to supervise- but he can earn back trust in a visible way. Note that being honest doesn't erase consequences- if he forgets his homework at school, he'll get a point for telling us PLUS we'll make him do it on the weekend (which he'd have to do no matter how we find out). That way the negative behaviors won't increase just so he can earn more trust points!

    RE: 10yr old and lying ()

    Just want to underline what another response was: GET PROFESSIONAL HELP ASAP. Our daughter lied from a young age, had some other issues as well, took her for psych counseling but we were told she would grow out of it. She never did. She still lies, constantly. I've decided to just stop believing the lies, and try to look for the prima facie evidence where possible without making myself crazy. We've gotten her with a great psychiatrist who has found a great anti-depressant for her, which is helping. At least now she can function day to day. And yes, we sent her to a dual diagnosis rehab facility this summer. Waste of time and money IMHO. She's not sober, but her drug use has decreased significantly (I would classify it as recreational now), her social skills and mood have improved, and so have her school grades. Excellent, proactive care is key.

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions


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