Welcome to the secret life of teenagers.
A time when they hang out with their friends more than with you. When it feels like they’re talking a whole new language. And when they get long and loose with the truth.
There’s not a parent alive who doesn’t wonder, at some stage, if their teen is telling the truth. Teenage lying and manipulation is a real and common thing. And it can become a genuine issue when its linked to their safety, mental health or the consequences of bad choices.
Fundamentally as parents, we want to trust our teens. Most teens are good kids. But we also don’t want to be blinded to teenage manipulation and lying. It’s important to know the signs to assist deciphering fact from fiction.
Here’s some tell-tale signs that can alert you to teenage manipulation and lying.
Overly detailed descriptions
Family Therapist Dr Karen Phillip teaches parents that one sign your child may be lying is if you ask about what they did and you get a very detailed description, far more than normal.
“This can be a sign that your child is trying to convince you and avoid questions,”
Change of topic
Alternatively, older children may try to provide a short response before quickly changing the topic as a way of avoiding the questions they don’t want to answer. It’s the flick pass of deflection and deception.
Out of order or mix it up
Another way to see if your teen is telling the truth is to ask what happened going from the end to the beginning. Questions such as ‘So before you got there, where did you meet?’ and ‘Where did you go before their house?’ Dr Phillip suggests this strategy works because we have difficulty lying backwards or out of sequence.
Eye contact can also be a sign that your teen isn’t telling you the whole truth. Look for different eye contact, such as if your child is avoiding your gaze when they normally would not. Your child may also stare at you to ensure you believe them. It’s the actual change of interaction and behaviour you’re watching for, as much as the action of eye contact itself.
Dr Phillip says another sign of lying can be a delay between a question and a child’s response. This allows time for the child to think about what they are going to say if they are making up a different story instead of the truth. A lag in conversation can be a sign that a story is being invented rather than the truth.
You may also notice a change in body language when your child isn’t telling the truth. This could be your child moving away from you, turning their body slightly like they are about to run away or seeming twitchy. Read their body rather than the words for a little insight into what is being said.
Communication is key
We all know communicating well with our children is key to having a healthy relationship with them. If you feel your child is lying to you, it may be time to reflect on how you communicate with each other.
Ashley de Silva, CEO of ReachOut – a digital support website for young people and parents, says that there are simple ways to help you connect and communicate well with your child.
These include being genuinely interested and curious about what your child is telling you. Give them your undivided attention, without interruptions or distractions.
Ashley de Silva, CEO ReachOut
Ashley also suggests it’s important to show empathy by trying to put yourself in your child’s shoes. Teens want to be talked with, not at, so try and avoid just giving instructions or unsolicited advice. Choosing a quiet space without distractions for important conversations can also improve your shared dialogue.
Navigating a healthy relationship with your teen can be difficult! Here’s to your teen telling the truth (almost all the time!) and navigating this tricky space as best you can. Good luck!