“How the hell am I supposed to believe a word that comes out of his mouth?!” Her frustration was clear…she was beyond angry with her teenage son because his lying was out of control. She was looking to me to help her understand (a) why he was lying all the time and (b) what she was supposed to do to correct the problem. This was not only hurting their relationship, but his lies were beginning to wreak havoc on her marriage because she and her husband did not see eye to eye on what to do about the issue.
The first step was to have Mom ask herself why her son might be lying. I told her in order to do that, she’d have to set aside feeling betrayed for a moment and honestly get curious about what she thought he had to gain by lying to her about everything from where he was going to why the money in his bank account was disappearing.
One obvious reason…he may be lying to escape the consequences of his actions, right? Another possible reason for his lies could be, in his eyes, her son doesn’t feel there is any room in the relationship for him to make mistakes. Maybe his lies started out small and harmless enough, but have now [over time] developed into a situation that he knows causes constant anger, lectures, distrust…maybe he feels there is no going back, or it would be too hard to turn things around at this point.
Either way, I understood Mom’s frustration but needed her to take a step back emotionally to look at the situation from her son’s perspective.
I run into a lot of parents who believe their teens are doing things to them when in actuality, their kids have made an unwise choice that has consequences they didn’t see coming, and rather than being honest and admitting the mistake (and possibly listening to some intense scrutiny and dealing with the consequences) just continue down the path because they don’t see a way out.
Believe it or not, telling the truth all of a sudden (when asked over and over again) doesn’t seem like a viable option.
If you want your son or daughter to be truthful you’ve got to be open to the fact that they’re going to make some mistakes during this often confusing time in their lives. And when they do, you’re responsible for creating an atmosphere that allows them to feel like they can come clean and not be shamed.
When you look back at your own teen years and you messed up, what happened? Were your mistakes and bad choices met with anger and criticism? Were you made to feel like garbage…or, did your parent(s) talk with you about the consequences of the choice you made and help you look at where you (if you were able to go back) could do things differently?
You know… so you could actually learn from the choices you’d made.
Because if your parents made you feel like crap for your behavior or choices during your teen years, my guess is you don’t know how to respond to your son or daughter any differently. You might even feel justified in responding the same way your parents did.
Ouch, that hurt.
But, ask yourself, if you were doing what your kid is doing at this moment what would be helpful to you?
I’m not saying there shouldn’t ever be consequences for kid’s actions, I’m just saying don’t take everything your teen does as a personal assault against you and your ability to parent.
This is a time when they are trying things on…everything from personality traits to hairstyles.
Another area you’ve gotta get clear on as a parent (and as a couple, if it applies) is what your expectations are. And, just like when they were toddlers, you have to consistently (in word and action) talk about and model these things with your kids.
For example…lying. In this family, we don’t lie. There is nothing you could do or say that would cause you to lose my love, therefore, lying is not an option. We don’t lie to you (make sure you are telling 100% truth here because kids will wave the bullshit flag with their words and/or behavior if you aren’t on the up and up) and we expect the same from you. There is nothing you could ever tell me that would be worse for our relationship than my finding out you lied to me. We can work through anything as long as you tell the truth.
Mom and Dad…you’ve got to live this out and be the example of truth and unconditional love. And if you mess up, own it. Your teen has to believe you are truly on their side and have a deep desire to set them up for success in life.
No anger, just clarity, and living by example.
Your teenager needs you in their life…be there to guide them, not rule over them and take everything they say and do during this decade so personally like it’s a direct reflection on you.
If you need help contact me.