Several questions submitted recently to this site are from parents concerned that their children have lied to them. For instance, a mother writes in to complain of her 13-year-old’s having invited a friend over after school instead of practicing his piano while the mother was at work. It isn’t even that he skipped piano practice that the mother minds so much, as that her son lied to her about it.
She says, “My son is transforming into a new creature.” And, by implication, she’s not so sure she likes the new creature he is becoming. He never used to lie – or so it seems. And he seldom disobeyed when he was younger. So what’s going on?
Adolescence is what’s going on. During adolescence, kids experience a developmental imperative: to become independent of the parents and to establish their own identities separate from the identities of their parents.
Beginning in the pre-adolescent years, kids will do anything to achieve these goals – including lying to their parents, if need be. I think the reason the mom we mentioned above was more hurt by the lie than by the disobedience was that on some level she realized that her son had chosen his relationship with his friend over his relationship to her. The lying cost him something in terms of his relationship with his mom. But giving up the opportunity to be with a peer would have, in his scheme of things, cost him far more, and in an area where he is far less certain of his standing.
Parents, in other words, get their feelings hurt by their children’s not telling them the truth because at bottom the parent realizes it is a sign that her child is pulling away from her, and there is some pain in letting go.
It hurts your feelings when your preteen lies to you, but unlike when she was younger, your teenager is not so powerfully motivated to avoid eliciting your anger or disappointment. In your teenager’s eyes, your feeling hurt or angry may be “a good sign” in that it proves to her, at least in the moment, that she is not being controlled by you, that you are not running her life… look, here you are hurt and angry. Doesn’t that prove that she decided to do this thing on her own? That she wasn’t allowing herself just to be your ‘toady’?