by Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.
As parents, we know that young children lie, apparently about once every two hours. Sometimes they do it to get what they want or gain attention, but usually it’s to avoid getting in trouble and being punished. Often the lines between make-believe and reality become blurred.
But when do kids’ “little white lies” become teenagers’ big, destructive whoppers? And how do these teens behave as adults out in the world? The front pages of the newspapers provide an unambiguous example of the slippery slope of lying and the difficulty of extricating yourself, in the form of politicians and other celebrities caught in embarrassing and destructive untruths.
According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, teens are five times more likely than those over 50 to believe it is necessary to lie and cheat in order to succeed. More than one in five admit to lying, cheating, or stealing in the past year, with 80% saying they have lied to their parents about something significant. As they move out into the world at large, these same young adults are two to three times more likely to misrepresent themselves in a job interview, lie to a significant other, and/or keep money mistakenly given to them. If you want your teens to move beyond this stage and recognize the dangers of lying, here are four tips to get you started:
- As in all aspects of parenting, keep the lines of communication open. When your children are young, encourage and praise their honesty, and let them know clearly what is unacceptable. As they mature, continue a dialogue that helps them recognize the real consequences of their behaviors.
- Be the role model you want you kids to emulate. And find other good examples of adults behaving well. They can help reinforce the examples of integrity, authenticity, and good citizenship that you want to encourage. Since poor role models abound in the entertainment, political, and sports worlds, it’s up to you to search out individuals you want your kids to emulate.
- Talk about the difference between rules, ethical standards, and flexible guidelines. These distinctions aren’t always easy for them to make. To make things more difficult, teens often witness the normalization of illegal activities on the Internet—plagiarism of papers and reports, downloading pirated music and videos—but you can make a case for controlling the blurring of these lines. Have frank discussions about character, and encourage them to develop a set of values.
- Teach them to focus on learning without obsessing about tests and grades. Kids face high expectations and the pressure to succeed from parents and schools. Let them know they don’t have to be perfect to be competitive. Help them learn to be resilient so they can bounce back from disappointment. Cheating and lying increase when self-esteem is low, so work to facilitate building their self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-respect.
Sir Walter Scott couldn’t have foreseen our modern society and its temptations two hundred years ago when he cautioned, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” but we can use his experience to initiate talks with our children about lying and give them the tools they need to lead honest lives.
About The Authors
Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are family relationship experts who have developed a 4-step model for change. If you are coping with acting-out teenagers, aging parents, boomerang kids, or difficult daughters-in-law, we have the solutions that make family rifts disappear. Visit our website, HerMentorCenter.com, to subscribe to Stepping Stones, a free ezine and our blog, Family Relationships, to receive practical tips and our free e-book, Courage and Lessons Learned.