Planting the Seeds of Honesty

Lying is such an infectious disease. It is probably at the heart of every dysfunctional and/or disastrous relationship. Most people will say that they don't really lie, they just tell a part of or give ...

Print Email

Lying is such an infectious disease. It is probably at the heart of every dysfunctional and/or disastrous relationship. Most people will say that they don't really lie, they just tell a part of or give a shade of the truth.

If one does admit to lying, one would probably say it was a white lie and/or a little lie told to protect a greater good or not hurt a loved one. More often than not, if the truth be told, any kind of lying no matter what the rationale ultimately damages and/or impairs a relationship.

As parents, we are very concerned about the honesty we share with our children. There is not a parent reading this column that does not want to believe his or her children.

Those of us parenting teenagers and young adults probably don't ask some specific questions because we are afraid of the truth or we are afraid our son or daughter might lie. So we sidestep important social issues and social behaviors. It is prom season and graduation party time. Many of us have children who will be participating in both social experiences. Some of us will elect to ask few to no questions and will set few or no parameters around these social experiences.

Some of us will be very clear on our expectations and on what the social parameters will be. Some of our children will "yes" us to death and that is where everything ends. We believe what they say, period. Other parents will be a little wary and will dig a little deeper. Some will find out some disturbing information and will let it die. Others will feel compelled to pursue these concerns further and will possibly find out that their teenager is lying.

Where does one go with this discovery? Clearly it depends on the seriousness of the circumstance. When a teenager lies, there should always be some kind of accountability to bring home the message that honesty is the best policy. However, the punishment should fit the crime.

The real tragedy here would be to do nothing. Too often we parents don't want the hassle of a confrontation, so we run. We hide behind four million excuses that will eventually come back to haunt us.

If we are going to be consistent in our policy with our children, we need to be consistently honest with them. In blunt terms, we need to make every effort to tell them the truth, even when it is uncomfortable. Parents have to be clear on their own values and beliefs, especially if they are going to call their children to certain standards.

High school teenage social behavior continues to be a dilemma. We live in a culture that espouses a double standard. The drinking age is twenty-one. However, many tolerate and coexist with college drinking, as long as nineteen and twenty year olds act responsibly.

It's graduation and prom time. Many parents will tolerate drinking at these gatherings as long as no one drives, even though it is against the law.

Smoking pot is another social dilemma. Many reading this column probably see nothing wrong with recreational pot use. Maybe you smoked pot in college and maybe even smoke it now. However, that social behavior is against the law as well.

How do we honestly hold our teenagers and young adults accountable around certain social behaviors that we are ambivalent about? This is where the first seeds of honesty are planted.

It is summer vacation. Our high school juniors and seniors have their junior licenses. The law is very clear about their driving privileges. However, it is summer, you are tired and you let your son or daughter drive friends to a movie. If stopped by the police, you instruct your son or daughter to lie.

It is early spring and your teenager has spring fever. He and a few of his friends cut an entire day of school to hang out. He gets caught. He tells the Dean that he had your permission, which is a lie. He tells you if you don't write him a note, he will have a series of detentions after school. He goes on to say how "uncool" that experience will be. You cave in and write an excuse note that is a lie.

In the grand scheme of things, the world is not going to end. Nor does it mean your son or daughter is going to become a pathological liar. However, it does infect the value of honesty, making it seem like a conditional value grounded in convenience and personal gain, rather than an absolute principle that should be a working value in every human encounter.

TJ is a senior in high school. He is bright, articulate and very engaging. Everyone loves him, but he is a liar. From the time he was a middle school student, people make excuses for his lies. His charming disposition seemed to always liberate him from being accountable.

In middle school, his lies were imaginative and creative, but they were blatant falsehoods. In high school, his lies were more serious because they involved the law and the safety of other people's lives.

Unfortunately, TJ became very reckless as a senior in high school. Although they did not affect his schoolwork, his drinking and drugging were out of control. His reasonable success in school colored how his parents saw his dishonesty and poor decision making around his drug and alcohol use. TJ's parents rarely held TJ accountable for anything.

On a Friday night right before graduation, TJ took the car without permission. He only had a junior license. He wanted to take his girlfriend to the movies. He lied to her and told her he had his senior license. She in turn lied to her parents. They gave her permission to go to the movies based on a lie. On the way home, TJ blew a stop sign. His passenger side was sideswiped by another car and his girlfriend was seriously hurt. She could have been killed. The accident could have been totally avoided had TJ told the truth.

What will it take for him to learn that honesty is the best policy, even if it is inconvenient?