Teaching Your Tween about Honesty

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 Telling lies is a habit everyone has dealt with some time in their life. If someone tells you they have never told a lie, guess what...they're lying to you! Of course, we want to teach our kids to be truthful in all situations, so here are some tips to help out.

Why Do Kids Lie?
The basic instinct to tell a lie is usually a way of getting out of a sticky or dangerous situation.

Scenario: A tween is invited to spend the night over a friend's house, and she agrees to go. Later that same day, she is invited to a slumber party with some really cool girls. She wants to go to the slumber party more, so she tells her friend that she cannot make to her house because she is not feeling well. Then, she goes to the slumber party instead.

Now this tween may find herself in an even more sticky situation, if her friend finds out she had gone to a slumber party without her. She should have asked if her friend could come to the slumber party as well, and if not, declined the party.

Why are Lies Bad?
Children lie. That is a fact most parents would attest to. They don't seem to need instruction on lying; they don't need encouragement to do so. They just do. Children exaggerate, twist the truth, hide the facts, manufacture stories, and deny the obvious.

Lying ought to concern us. Yet what concerns us most is when a child lies compulsively. By that we mean that a child lies frequently or for no apparent reason. Parents subject to compulsive lying become suspicious and distrustful of their children, and the children conversely become more unruly and more dishonest. Once the cycle of lying and distrust is in full swing, it is difficult to find a single way in which the cycle may be stopped. That is the primary purpose of this pamphlet: to initiate a process of thinking through why a child lies, and then find the help necessary in discontinuing the behaviour.

Lying As An Indicator
Before we consider why children lie, it is essential to recognize that lying may be an early indicator of a more severe problem. Compulsive lying has often been indicated in the early stages of children suffering from social behaviour disorders, primarily that of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Conduct Disorder. The current space does not permit a detailed discussion of such disorders. Suffice it to say that in such cases, compulsive lying usually accompanies other problem behaviours such as stealing, cheating, aggression, violent temper tantrums, skipping school, constantly losing items, and poor behaviour in groups, social settings or with authority figures. Problems such as impulsivity, an apparent inability to link consequences with behaviour, inattentiveness and discomfort with social situations may be at the heart of lying.

In such cases, the immediate intervention of a qualified counsellor who is able to work with children is required. Such counsellors would be able to provide parents with specific parenting styles and a deeper understanding of the problem they face. In addition, the child will receive age- appropriate psychotherapy, and be connected with medical specialists providing the necessary services.

Why Are You Lying?
Recognizing that there are "special needs", however, only allows the parent to seek more help. There are still some fundamental reasons why children lie compulsively.

  1. Fear. Fear is a common motivator for lying. Consider the child who lies because she fears that her mother would "blow up" at her, or that dad would take privileges away, or that the teacher would send her (or her friend) to the principal's office. Such fear may be rational or irrational, but the effect of lying is similar - a temporary shelter from punishment.

        What do we do about fear motivated lies? Consider two important implications. First, children who lie out of fear usually know that they have done something that is wrong. This provides an important clue for parents responding to the lying child. Consider that the child's problem is not in knowing what is wrong, but in resisting its temptation. Claiming "I've told you more than a hundred times..." does not help children deal with the heart of the error or disobedience. It merely alienates them. Parents have to get beyond the lie, and address the behaviour that "necessitated" the lie in the first place.

        Second, parents may need to accept that their children lie because they are afraid of their parents' temperament. It is not surprising that constantly angry, shouting, rigid or restrictive parents often encounter compulsively lying children. Allowing room for negotiation, compromise, listening before accusing, and keeping your volume down usually helps in paving the way for more honest communication.
  2. Habit. Lying can also become a habit formed through constant practice. It is possible that a child can "lie by reflex", and when confronted insist that it is the truth. Habitual lying is often strengthened by hostile confrontation. One of the most effective ways of dealing with habitual lying is to give the child an opportunity to retract the lie without fear of consequences.
  3. Modelling. Lying is a commonplace behaviour, and children are subject to lies all the time. The problem is that children learn to lie through experiencing others lie. The dilemma is that it is impossible to shield children from lies. One parent who limited her child's friends to those who did not lie reduced the number of approved companions to just one, and that under close supervision!

    One potent source of modelling, however, is from within the home. There is an old proverb that says, "What parents do in moderation, children do in excess." "Moderate" lying is thought of by many parents as harmless (such as a "white" lie, or a "harmless excuse") or mistakes (such as an unkept promise), or even purposeful and calculated distortions of the truth ("I had to lie because..."). Children, however, do not appreciate the nuances of a lie. Since it is difficult for parents to control the lies that children will encounter outside the home, it is more useful to start eliminating lies from within the home. Make telling the truth a priority both in instruction and by example.
  4. Overprediction. Children also lie because they overpredict a reaction. One child said, "I know mom would say 'no', so I lied." In reality, mom would merely have asked more questions and given her permission! One of the most productive ways of addressing overprediction is to provide a child with clear boundaries, and yet emphasize that these boundaries are negotiable. Making up the rules as you go along, and far too many "don'ts" and restrictions can promote lying behaviour.

Do I Punish Lying?
When we get to the "bottom line", many parents want to know if they should punish a child for lying, and if so how. Recall that one of the main motivators of lying is fear. Many children choose to lie because it seems the lesser of two evils, and they imagine they could get away with it. In a sense, lying is punishment-avoidant behaviour. The dilemma regarding punishment for lying is that the parent may risk reinforcing fear, thus increasing the likelihood of lying in the future, rather than decreasing it!

In addition, there is the risk of confounding the message of the punishment. While the parent is saying, "I'm punishing you because you lied", the child may be thinking, "You are punishing me because you found out the truth." For the child, punishment is not associated with lying but being found out. The next time around, the child finds new ways to misrepresent the truth, and the parent is left in a quandary of suspicion and distrust.

Consider some important issues regarding punishment and lying:

  1. Punishment is most effective in limiting habitual lying (discussed earlier) since punishment is designed to reduce a learned behaviour. The problem is that punishment is not designed to teach and reinforce an alternate behaviour. Punishment without loving and careful instruction is a useless tool, and one that often leads to excessiveness and abuse.
  2. Punishing a lie when it is motivated by fear, modelling or overprediction tends to be ineffective in the long run. Seek the deeper motivation for the lie and work at the source rather than the symptom.
  3. Use punishment as the last option, not the first reaction. Parents are often surprised how soft messages excel in impact over hard messages. For example, "You really hurt mom and dad when you lie," is often more effective than, "I'm really going to hurt you because you lied." 

Above all, recognize that the purpose and desire of every parent is to encourage honesty. That is a characteristic, not just a behaviour. When all is said and done, we want our children to love the truth, not to fear it; and to hate lies, not merely the punishment that lying brings.

Skills for Being Truthful
Teaching your tween to be truthful takes patience. The first thing you must do is explain to your child that telling lies is not acceptable, and that there are personal consequences, as well as the probability of hurting others in the process.

Skills:

  • Look a person in the eye when you are speaking to them. It is harder to tell a lie when you look someone in the eye. 
  • Do not leave out important information when telling a story to someone. Leaving out information can cause a lie, too. 
  • Admit when you are wrong about something, instead of creating another wrong by telling a lie. 
  • Keep practicing with telling the truth. If you do not practice it consistently, you will lose it. 
  • Understand that there is no difference between little white lies and big lies. A lie is a lie, no matter what.

Dealing with lying teens
When you catch your teenager lying to you how do you react? Sometimes a rebellious teen may still choose to stand his ground even if he senses you know he’s lying. He may think that as long as he sticks to his story, you may just come around. Situations like these can be a bundle of stress on the nerves. So what do you do?

It’s vital that you address the situation straight away if you know that your teen is lying to you. You can start by figuring out what could be causing your child’s dishonesty in the first place. It’s important to go over your own position on the issue with your teen by explaining the values you hold and the meaning of honesty in your household. Reviewing the penalties for dishonest behavior is also essential.

  • Don’t be a hypocrite
    As much as a teenager’s peer group has its influence over his actions, you are also a prime role model for his behavior. And the values or ideals you hold dear most likely may be passed on to your child. In order to keep your household lie-free, of course don’t get caught lying yourself! Adolescents cannot look up to someone who’s telling them one thing while doing another. As much as possible, live by what you preach. 
  • What to do when faced with a lie?
    Instead of going straight to reprimanding your teen about his lying, try to find out more about why they lied in the first place. It would be good to understand why your child chose to lie in a certain situation instead of tell the truth. This will give you some insight into your teen’s frame of mind, as well as his hierarchy of values. Once you come to terms with your teenager’s frame of mind or how he prioritizes his own set of values, you will be able to correct any confusion and prevent it from becoming a recurring issue.

    If you learn that your teenager’s reason for lying was plainly to cover up misbehavior, you need to go over the behaviors that you will tolerate and those you won’t. Both the penalties for intolerable behavior and lying to cover it up should be discussed. Making a mistake is one thing, but making a mistake and lying to cover it up is another.
  • Now what?
    Setting your guidelines at home with corresponding penalties, and distinctly enforcing them may be considered the best approach. In order to monitor a lying teen you can make him inform you of his whereabouts, expected time of return, and company. This kind of monitoring will show your teen that he must work to gain your trust again. A teenager who is responding well to monitoring can be rewarded with more freedom and the more responsibility that comes with it.

Benefits of Being Truthful
Let your child know that everyone falls into the pit of lying. It is a natural thing for humans to do. But, if you genuinely want to better yourself and gain respect from your peers and authority, you will need to practice telling the truth every day. Let your child know that telling the truth can be hard at times, especially when you think you may be in a lot of trouble, but being caught in a lie doubles your punishment, and people will start to lose confidence in you as a trustworthy person. On the other hand, if you are known to be truthful, you will have more confidence in yourself, and others will know that they can count on you.

Teaching Your Tween about Honesty
Character education is important at any age, but this is especially true as your child hits the tween years. This is a time when your child may try to get away with little fibs and may stretch the truth. He is exerting his independence and seeing how far you will let him go. Honesty is a virtue that children should learn early, and it will be a lesson that they will remember for a lifetime. If you are not sure how to teach your tween the importance of honesty, here are some tips to

Talking about honesty may seem simple. However, if you don’t talk about it, then your tween may not know where you stand. You need to talk to your tween about what is acceptable as far as honesty goes and what is not. All adults are guilty of stretching the truth now and again or fibbing a bit not to hurt someone’s feelings. This is a fine line for children and you need to talk about it.

Teaching honesty seems like a lost art in so many ways in today's world. Take the time to teach your tween about this important character trait.

Character education is important at any age, but this is especially true as your child hits the tween years. This is a time when your child may try to get away with little fibs and may stretch the truth. He is exerting his independence and seeing how far you will let him go. Honesty is a virtue that children should learn early, and it will be a lesson that they will remember for a lifetime. If you are not sure how to teach your tween the importance of honesty, here are some tips to get your started.

Talk about Honesty
Talking about honesty may seem simple. However, if you don’t talk about it, then your tween may not know where you stand. You need to talk to your tween about what is acceptable as far as honesty goes and what is not. All adults are guilty of stretching the truth now and again or fibbing a bit not to hurt someone’s feelings. This is a fine line for children and you need to talk about it.

Make Your Emphasis Honesty Not Dishonesty
If your child feels you are spending all your time watching for dishonesty rather than honesty, they may use it against you. It is not uncommon for children at this age to pick something they know that draws attention and use it.

You do not want your child looking to you for the wrong type of attention. Instead you should focus on the honest things that happen and brag on or reward your children for these acts. Positive reinforcement often sees greater rewards than negative.

Open the Communication Lines
Make sure you have an open relationship with your children. If your tween feels they will get in trouble or be yelled at for telling the truth, they might be inclined to lie.

You have to understand that there will be times that you don’t want to know the truth, but you still have to be your tween’s parent. Sometimes hearing the truth hurts, but hearing it can help develop a more honest relationship.

Use Example to Teach This Lesson
There are many examples of honesty and dishonesty in popular culture and books. Use these examples to teach your tween how things can go right or wrong by either telling the truth or lying. You can also use examples from your life or your child’s.

For example, if your child is deceived by a friend, use this experience to show how bad it feels to be lied to. You can also use this to show how quickly one little lie can end an otherwise great relationship. Once your child understands the impact of lying they will be less likely to tell one.

Show Through Example
Children watch parents. They pick up on their facial expressions, their dialect, and the ways of living. If you want your child to be honest, then you need to be honest yourself. It is not always easy, but there are ways you can word things to your child so that they know you are not lying, but telling the truth. For example, what do you say when your tween asks you if you ever smoked cigarettes? You may be tempted to lie and say no, but that is not the right thing to do. You should tell your child to truth and through that he will learn honesty by example.

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