Dear Dr. Meg:
I’m looking for advice on lying and honesty. My 12 (almost 13) year old step-daughter has been lying a lot lately. We have half time custody. She is a “pleaser” and does not want to disappoint us. We have had her read the “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens”, have discussed the importance of honesty, model honesty ourselves, etc. and we have given her consequences for her actions. I’m not sure where to go from here and really need some guidance. I’m worried for her and want to teach her the importance of honesty now before she gets into real trouble. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated. Love your podcast.
Teenagers lie for one of several reasons.
First, they lie to get attention.
Believe it or not, many want to get caught because even negative attention is better than none at all.
Second, they lie because they feel that it is acceptable.
They have seen lies work for friends or close family members (that’s why it’s so important for parents to never lie to their kids.)
Third, some teens lie because they are angry and are afraid to show it.
So they “get back” at people they are angry with by lying to them. But even with these kids, I’m convinced they want to get caught because lying or being angry over time feels horrible – even for teens.
Use your best judgment to figure out why you believe your step-daughter is lying. If I had to make a guess I’d say she wants attention and she’s mad.
“Pleasers” don’t want to disappoint loved ones so they don’t express anger for fear of alienating that person. This young girl has plenty to be mad about. I know this is hard for parents to hear but children who have suffered through divorce deal with a lot of pain.
They feel deep confusion, anger, and loneliness – and simply don’t know what to do with all of those feelings. Even kids whose parents have an amicable divorce experience these feelings.
Rather than simply reprimand her for lying, over the next few months, talk with her about how she’s feeling.
Sometimes simply sitting down and empathizing a bit with kids goes a long way. You might start by saying, “How are you doing?
I imagine that if I were 12 and going through so many changes, I would be having a hard time. Do you get stressed about things – school, friends, going back and forth between our homes?”
At first, she may rebuff you but keep at it. Let her know that your job is to help her not harm her. You are in a unique position because you aren’t Mom or Dad. She doesn’t want you to be her mother and that’s a good thing now. She needs an adult who can have her back and empathize.