So, you just caught your teen in a lie. Your instinct may be to lose your cool: to panic, feel hurt and maybe yell at your child. But before you let your emotions get the best of you, take a deep breath. It is important to think about why your child is lying – and then use some important conversation skills to talk with your teen before you impart a consequence.
First, understand that all people – including teens – usually lie in order to avoid something. That can be a feeling, a reaction, a perception or a consequence.
Second, before you confront your child, it’s just as crucial to determine the underlying reason behind the lie as it is to address the lie itself. Think about this: why do you think your teen was dishonest with you? Was it because he didn’t want to worry or upset you? Because he knew you’d get angry and present a serious consequence? Or maybe he was trying to avoid feelings of shame or guilt in order to get away with something that he knew you wouldn’t approve of? Trying to understand this will help you approach the conversation with a clear perspective.
Remember: Just because your teen lied doesn’t mean your teen is a bad person. If your teen equates lying with being a bad person, this can actually facilitate additional distrust and cause even more lies down the road.
Third, to have an open and honest conversation with your teen, try to remain calm, curious and objective. Yes, this is difficult – but the more you can try to suppress the personal sting you feel after being lied to, the better position you will be in to get your teen to talk with you. Do your best to avoid finger-pointing and accusations that will shame your teen, and instead try something like this:
“You said you had only smoked weed once, but I know that isn’t true. Why didn’t you feel like you could tell me the truth about that?” You can also ask questions like, “What were you trying to accomplish by lying?”
Or: “What can I do to help you feel more comfortable telling me the truth next time?”
These questions get to the heart of why the lie happened, and can help you understand what you need to look out for in the future.
Finally, once you have talked about the reason behind the behavior you can then explain the consequence. Be sure to think about what this might be beforehand, so that you can clearly communicate the reasoning behind it and be sure that he understands why you chose it and why the consequence is important. The consequence should fit the violation, and should be specific. In other words, try not to make the emotion around the situation (shaming, name-calling) become the consequence itself.