Your teenager keeps lying, and no matter what discipline or consequences you try, they refuse to fess up.
After everything you’ve done for your teen—everything you’ve sacrificed—this is how they treat you?
Here’s some insight and strategies to help you approach this very hurtful and difficult situation in a way that strengthens your relationship rather than damaging it further.
I used to lie too!
Your teenager isn’t broken, and they’re not a bad kid. Their brain is going through a lot of change, and they’re managing it without adult brain filters for things like impulse control and critical analysis.
When I was a teenager, I lied all the time. I grew up in a very strict home—not because my parents were bad or evil people—they just wanted to keep me safe, and they were doing what they thought was best.
My personality style was a struggle for them. I was extroverted, loud, and full of messy emotions they found embarrassing. I felt I needed to suppress my true self to earn their love and approval and rarely felt I truly belonged.
As a result, I didn’t feel emotionally safe to share things with my parents. I didn’t express my curiosity or my struggles because my experience was receiving judgment or criticism, so I lied.
The teen brain is highly susceptible to lying
Your teen isn’t lying out of a desire to “disrespect” or spite you. Trust me—their brain is too self-focused for that!
On a primal level, your teen wants your love and acceptance, and they need those for safety. However, they lack the emotional regulation and impulse control and crave risk-taking behaviour like novelty, excitement, and adventure. Lying is often the intersection of those opposing forces where they avoid disappointing you.
None of this makes the lying okay—it’s simply about understanding why this behaviour is happening so you can begin to address it in an effective way.
Connect before you connect
Don’t worry, you’re not letting them off the hook! It’s important to connect before you correct, by having an open conversation before setting appropriate consequences.
Discipline and consequences still have their place yet focusing on these alone will not get down to the root of the problem. If you want to understand what’s driving the lying and figure out how to shift their behaviour, you have to get curious.
You’re entitled to feel upset or angry, and you can even say, “I need space to process and cool down before we talk.” This is modelling healthy emotional expression and coping mechanisms, and making sure you’re regulated, not reactive, in the conversation.
The conversation is your most important tool
Once you feel ready, ask questions without interrogating. “Help me understand” is a great starter, then listen. Give your teenager the floor to explain the situation without interruption. They may not even know why they did it!
Instead of scolding or lecturing them, ask small, short questions: “And then what happened? What were you aiming for? How did you want to feel? Did it turn out that way? Were you scared?”
Your curiosity isn’t condoning the behaviour—you’re building emotional safety and helping their brain to process (improving executive function) some of the thought and emotion behind their behaviour (impulse).
This is why the conversation—not the consequence—is the most important aspect of actually shifting their behaviour because it’s where their brain does the learning with you as the mentor.
What about the consequences?
Ask them, “What would you do if you were me?” You’d be shocked what teenagers will reveal to you in this moment. Sometimes they think of a better consequence than you ever could!
Assure your teen you love them, even if you don’t love their choices.
If you’re not ready to decide on a consequence, say “This is hard for me. I love you. I’m grateful you shared these things with me to help me understand. I need to think about the next best step, and I’ll get back to you in (fill in a time frame and keep your word).”
Have the consequence meet the crime. Teens tell me that learning a new skill or helping at home is far more effective that losing a privilege. Can they mow the lawn? Help paint the deck? Wash dishes for a week?
For more research-based strategies and support on creating compassionate consequences for lasting behaviour change, join my 8-week parent mastermind starting Monday, September 26th.
The Empowered Parent Mastermind covers 8 key topics to provide the relationship skills and parenting tools that reduce lying and improve communication and connection long term, guaranteed. Click the link below to get started.
If you’re not sure and have questions, join my free webinar on Wednesday, September 21st for more details and answers.