How to tell if your child is lying to you


I’m deep in research for my upcoming webinar about raising teens (note the date change to Oct. 13th) and am enjoying hearing the stories from parents about the trials and tribulations of living with adolescents. If you haven’t shared your biggest challenge yet, email me here.

I thought I’d pass along this fun bit of knowledge for how to tell if your teen is lying to you. Of course, it applies to children and adults as well but these tips are more art than science so take them with a grain of salt. Remember that children and teenagers lie. It can be a big trigger for parents but when we fly off the handle and get angry, it just gives our kids more reason to deceive. Lying is normal human behavior and if we are calm, we can teach them that honesty is a better option.

Here are some red flags of possible lying over text message or in person

  1. If you and your child are in a quick, back & forth exchange and suddenly there is a delay, it could mean they are thinking about a response.
  2. If your child suddenly changes the subject “What’s for dinner?” or the tone (getting very serious after a light hearted exchange) they may be in a conversation they would rather avoid.
  3. In order to distance ourselves from something uncomfortable (lying), we often will switch away from the first person or from using pronouns all together. “There was a Starbucks near the movie theater that stayed open late so everyone just hung out.”
  4. Non-committal language “probably” “maybe” “I guess” “possibly” unless is this is your kids typical way of communicating.
  5. Lots of extraneous and specific details, especially if it includes the words “To be honest” or “To tell you the truth….”
  6. Repeating your question (to buy themselves time to think of an answer) and responding to an accusation with a generalized statement “Meeting people online is dangerous” rather than saying, “I only talk to people online that I have met in person”.
  7. Changing tense in the middle of a story (if this is unusual for your child) “I said I’d be home by 10, but I was thinking I don’t have to get up early tomorrow, so I drove to Emily’s house for a little bit.”

Here are some physical signs of lying to watch for if talking to your teen in person

  1. Covering the mouth, throat or face with their hand while talking. Avoiding eye contact, or staring straight in the eyes in an unnatural way. No blinking or lots of blinking.
  2. Shrinking their body to make it smaller or turning it away from you while talking.
  3. Stiff, robotic like movements and facial expressions.
  4. A reaction that seems out of proportion to the situation.
  5. The timing seems off between the emotions and the words, “I think it’s disrespectful that Kyle would lie like that to his parents”… pause, followed by a disapproving look.

To encourage honesty in your children, don’t accuse them of lying. Instead ask them questions like “Is there anything going on with that group text you feel uncomfortable about?” or “Is there something you are worried about that you’d like to share with me if I promise not to get mad?” Try to make it as easy as possible for your kids to confide in you by caring less but loving more.

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