My teenager is lying to me: how should I react?

What is the use of lies?

Signing a note from the school instead of his parents, falsifying a report card, skipping classes, coming home later than expected, pretending to sleep at a friend’s house when you’re going to a party, hiding your cigarettes, dating… Lies are common during adolescence, but their intensity varies from one child to another. “Basically, it is a normal behaviour that concerns all children,” explains Laura Gélin, psychoanalyst and therapist. Let’s remember our own adolescence: who has never felt the need to hide certain things from their parents?”.

Most of the time, these dissimulations concern facts that are not serious. “We speak rather of arrangements with the truth”, the therapist nuances. It is indeed a question, for the child, of not saying everything and thus preserving a certain part of the secret garden. “If he lies, it is because he has a reason. In general, this translates a need to mark a distance, says Laura Gélin. The child is looking for autonomy, he wants to make his own experiences. These harmless lies are an escape route, a way of escaping parental vigilance, especially if he has very inquisitive parents in front of him. It gives him the feeling of being in control of his life. It is both a way to get what he wants and to have a little more freedom”. And that’s not the only reason.

Placed on a pedestal, the child is also afraid of not living up to the ideal image that his parents have of him. He finds it difficult to accept his failures and weaknesses. Lying about their school results, not saying that they have received an hour of detention, is also an easy solution to avoid the fear of disappointing them. “By doing this, he is avoiding his responsibilities while maintaining the love of his parents,” adds the therapist.

Why are the lies unbearable?

When we discover the pot-aux-roses, the shock is sometimes great. We don’t recognize our child who used to tell us everything. This new behavior amazes and disappoints us. The trust we had had in him until then fades away and we wonder how to restore balance. “The way parents look at a child changes after this discovery: the disappointment can be great to see that the perfect child you imagine doesn’t exist,” continues Laura Gélin. The closeness that we had with him is no longer there as the child now cultivates his secret garden. More than the lie, it is the severing of the bond that hurts and gives a feeling of betrayal”.

Above all, it is a question of playing down the drama and not to label him as a “compulsive liar”: no, he will not lie all his life and no, his goal was not to hurt you, but to avoid a crisis. Don’t overreact. Take some time to reflect and ask yourself why he felt the need to disguise reality. Did you set too strict rules? “If the child lies because there are too many demands from his parents and he is under too much pressure, you have to question and challenge yourself,” notes Laura Gélin. Lying may not have been his first choice, but he found himself cornered there because he didn’t have the space to say everything”

Consider also the scope of his lie: is it a hiding without consequences, a simple dodge, in which case a call to order may suffice; or is it a “big” lie, potentially putting him in danger? “To be successful, your reaction must be adapted to the seriousness of the concealment,” the therapist reminds us.

How should I react to my teenager’s lie?

The first thing to do is not to close your eyes. A lie, even an insignificant one, deserves to be examined, if only to show him that you are not fooled! Talk with him or her to clarify the situation. Open the dialogue, ask him why he felt the need to lie, try to understand his attitude. “Encourage confidence by explaining to him that an admitted fault is half-forgiven,” emphasizes Laura Gélin. Gently make him aware of his act and his responsibilities”. Apologies and attempts at reparation can also be considered if his act requires it.

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