When Do Teens Lie to Their Parents (and When Do They Tell the Truth)?

The following is excerpted from an online article posted by MedicalXpress.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that most teenagers, at one time or another, will hide information from their parents. Some will lie outright.

Yet, when they do lie—do they plan to fib ahead of time? What about when they share information–do they do so voluntarily? And do they employ the same (mis)information strategies every time when they do something, or plan on doing something that they know their parents won’t be happy about?

In a recent study, published in the Journal of Adolescence, Judith Smetana, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, and two University of Rochester psychology graduate students, Sduduzo Mncwabe and Yuejiao Li, explored the narratives of 131 teenagers and college students who had been interviewed about a time when they did something that their parents disagreed with or had expressly forbidden.

Here are some key findings from the study:

Teenagers disclose information to their parents primarily voluntarily (40%), or strategically (47%)—either as a means to an end, such as telling the truth about a party to which they may need a ride, or preemptively because they suspect their parents will find out anyway.

“It’s significant,” that only 40% of study participants disclosed the salient information of their own volition—”far less” than what had been commonly assumed, says Smetana.

Involuntary truth telling or involuntary disclosing, the team found, is much less frequent (13%), and could involve a friend’s spilling the beans accidentally, a teen’s getting a tattoo that is eventually seen by parents, or by getting pressured by parents to tell.

Timing plays a crucial role: adolescents were more likely to lie (53%) before the event or action that their parents would not condone. However, telling the truth or disclosing the information occurred more often after they had already engaged in the parentally disapproved activity (35% disclosed the dodgy activity shortly afterwards, 8% lied for an extended time before coming clean, and 23% told the truth at some unspecified time).

“Disclosure may not be the first thing they do. Maybe they tried to get away with it without telling their parents. Or maybe they concealed first, and then they disclosed. It’s really shades of gray—usually not black and white,” says Smetana.

Overall, the researchers found that, regardless of age, telling the truth (or part of it) voluntarily was associated with teens’ reporting positive change, such as greater psychological growth in understanding themselves, their purpose, self-efficacy, or connections to others and parents.

“They had a better psychological understanding of themselves and made more psychological meaning out of disclosure, than out of concealment or lying,” says Smetana.

Conversely, teenagers drew more negative conclusions when retelling experiences of lying, such as more negative views and less clarity about themselves, more negative emotions, or poorer self‐image. Additionally, disclosing after—rather than before—the narrated event was associated with greater likelihood of lessons learned about the self.

The key to sharing pertinent information are warm, trusting parent-child relationships that develop prior to adolescence and continue throughout life. There are some things teens choose not to disclose because they see the issues as personal and private—not the parent’s business, notes Smetana.

To some extent that’s ok, she says, because it helps foster teen autonomy. But parents and teenagers often differ on what is private and should be up to the teen to decide—versus what parents need to know to keep their teens safe. Adolescents may not tell parents about risky behavior, for example, because they are afraid they’ll get in trouble, or that their parents will think less of them.

“This is where trust and good communication are especially important, because it might mitigate parents’ negative responses,” says Smetana. “Having a good relationship with your teen fosters disclosure. It’s not a quick fix.”

Source: MedicalXpress

Help us reach the next generation of families

Back to Top

[reposted by] Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has 40 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on Crosswalk.com and Religiontoday.com. Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

  • About HomeWord

    HomeWord helps families succeed by creating Biblical resources that build strong marriages, confident parents, empowered kids and healthy leaders. Founded by Jim Burns, HomeWord seeks to advance the work of God in the world by educating, equipping, and encouraging parents and churches. Learn More »

  • Support Our Mission

    HomeWord is non-profit, donor supported ministry. If you would like to partner with HomeWord in our effort to help more parents and families you can make a donation. Your investment will allow us to expand this ministry by offering more resources to families and churches in need.

  • Contact Information

    • HomeWord
      PO Box 1600
      San Juan Capistrano, CA

    • Send us an email

    • 800-397-9725
      (M-F: 8:30am-5pm PST)