A friend’s son, a 15-year-old high school freshman, got caught.
He and a few buddies had concocted a plan to order some vaping paraphernalia and have the package delivered to a vacant house nearby. When their scheme was discovered, the reactions of the parents involved was as revealing as the boys’ excuses and mumbled apologies.
One parent took away his son’s cell phone for a month as punishment and lectured him about the dangers of vaping. The other parent, however, appeared less upset about the vaping itself, focusing instead on the deception.
She simply couldn’t believe that her child would lie to her.
But as any parent eventually learns, teens lie to their parents. Heck, anyone who has ever been a teen knows that there comes a point when kids are not completely forthcoming — unless those adults are now lying to themselves about their own record for honesty.
It’s not all the time, and it occurs in varying degrees — from little fibs to whoppers the size of Texas — but kids lying to their parents is nearly an inevitable part of growing up.
They lie for all sorts of reasons, just like we do: to get out of trouble, to avoid uncomfortable situations, to boost their egos, to get what they want, or to cover up their true feelings. As kids grow older, lying is often a reflection of their natural desire to keep parts of their lives secret, or at least more distant, from their parents.
Sometimes kids even lie without knowing exactly why they’re doing it.
In fact, most child development experts tell us with great confidence that 100% of kids lie, and any parent who thinks otherwise is living in a fantasy land. Moreover, some of those experts even go so far as to maintain that kids lying isn’t necessarily bad, as it could be a sign of intelligence and social adaptability.
Even so, most parents maintain some version of a no-lying policy with their kids. But like all aspects of parenting, it’s never quite as simple as we would hope.
One frequent complicating factor is that oftentimes the lie a kid tells isn’t the only, or the main, problem. It’s likely to be bundled up with other behavioral issues that must be addressed, such as vaping.
It’s also difficult sometimes for parents to discern when their child’s lie, or pattern of lying, is an attempt to mask psychological or health problems such as depression, drug and alcohol use or bullying. When a kid insists that “I’m OK” when that’s clearly not the case, most parents instinctively seek to root out the underlying issue. The lack of candor is the least of their worries.
Experts often tell us that it’s alright to downplay it when kids tell little white lies or exaggerations, which are often attempts to make themselves or others feel better, as long as such fibbing doesn’t become habitual or mean-spirited.
Naturally, there must be consequences for bigger lies, such as when kids falsely claim to have completed their homework assignments, hide their true whereabouts from their parents or mislead their parents about drug and alcohol use.
While the behavior that precipitated the lie must be dealt with, parents should always impress upon their children that whatever mistakes they’ve made, being honest about what they’ve done will help restore respect and trust, experts say.
But again, easier said than done.
As we attempt to mold our kids into paragons of virtue, it surely escapes no parent’s notice that we also lied sometimes when we were young, and we probably continue to do so.
I’m not referring to Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the story about Sparky the hamster going to live on a farm upstate. We lie to our kids all the time about what we do, why we do it and how we really feel. We gloss over our own history of youthful indiscretions and the lies we told our own parents.
This brings to mind a conversation I recently had with another friend, who was concerned that his college student son might become distracted from his studies and not live up to his full potential. Then again, this dad admitted, his own college career had been far from perfect.
“I’m a hypocrite,” he concluded with a laugh.
Indeed, I sometimes think that to be a parent is to be a situational hypocrite — sure we lie to our kids, but we rationalize that we only do it when it’s for their own good. That doesn’t mean we think it’s acceptable for them to lie to us.
When they get to be parents they can do the same thing to their kids. That’s the circle of life — or, in this case, lies.
Do parents harbor unrealistic expectations that their kids will always be and act better than them? Probably, yeah, most of the time we do just that. Is it fair? Maybe not.
Is it human? Absolutely.
When it comes to lying, we’d like to operate in absolutes, but it never seems to work out that way. We might instruct our kids to always be honest with us, but sometimes they won’t be, and that’s a reality we find ourselves dealing with one lie at a time.