Yes, it is true. Teens lie. Teens argue. Teens often want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be given the freedom of independence while relying on their parents’ supportive cash for gas money and money to go out with friends. It is a very confusing time—for teens and parents. As parents, we want what is best for our teens. We hope they will accept the wisdom of our experience as they navigate the transition into adulthood. Unfortunately, they do not always heed our words…at least not to our faces. So, when it comes to dealing with teens, here are a couple helpful ideas.
The most common reason teens give for not telling the truth or for withholding the truth from parents is to “protect my relationship with my parents.” In other words, they fear that the truth will cause distance in the parent-child relationship. They do not want to hurt us. Some parents believe that being more permissive will result in more truth-telling. It does not. Teens who have permissive parents actually lie more! They believe that their permissive parent really does not care if they engage in various behaviors and will not do anything in response anyway, so why tell? Why hurt their feelings? Just don’t mention it…or, if forced to, lie.
Families with the least amount of deception, on the other hand, have clear, concise rules accompanied by reasonable and consistent consequences. Teens in these families know the rules and the consequences. Families that experience the least deception also have one more ingredient: parents who listen and make sure their teen feels heard before offering small concessions and compromises. “Wait…what? Did you say concessions and compromises? But I am the parent…my rules go in this house!” Remember, our teens are becoming adults. They have to learn how to manage their own behavior. As we honor them with our listening ears and show them the grace of small compromises and concessions, they grow in their ability to recognize potential consequences and make wise decisions independently. A little bit of flexibility will go a long way in decreasing teen deception and increasing teen maturity. So, teens who lie the least have parents who set clear rules, consistently enforce those rules, and also find opportunities to make some compromises with their maturing teen.
Using this style of parenting does have some side effects (stated in the soothing voice of one announcing medication side effects on various TV commercials). Having clear rules that are consistently enforced may result in increased arguing and complaining. In fact, those families with the least amount of deception often had a higher rate of arguing and complaining. That is great! No really, it is great. A moderate amount of arguing between parent and teens (emphasize the word moderate) results in better adjustment than no arguing or frequent arguing. Arguing allows the teen to see their parent in a new light, to hear the argument for the rules clearly articulated and “reasoned out.” In the teens’ effort to become independent and take on “their own values,” they can listen to their parents articulate the rules they have grown up with before internalizing them as their own. In a sense, the teen who complains and argues is saying, “I know you have always kept this rule; but now I want to know why. Do you really believe it? What makes it such a good rule?” In the midst of this argument, teens assert their growing independence while exploring the values they have grown up with.
One last secret (don’t tell your teens). I often meet with parents who are at their wit’s end because they feel like their teen is not listening. I listen as they tell me what they have told their teen. I empathize with their frustration as they explain that their teen does not take their words of wisdom into account. Then I meet with the teen. In the midst of our discussion, their teen will often tell me exactly what their parents have said…and they say it as though it is their own idea. They have heard it. They even believe it; and, they are in the process of making it their own. They just can’t tell their parents about this and carve out their own independence at the same time. So, keep on listening. Keep on patiently enforcing the rules. Keep on discussing the rational of the rules and struggling to make appropriate concessions. Trust that your teen hears you. They are listening. And, hold on for the ride of your life on the teenage roller coaster. Your work will pay off…when the ride ends and your teen becomes an adult!