"Honesty is the best policy" until it comes too close to home. Most of us would endorse honesty and truth as important operating life principles. As a norm most of us probably try to live honest and truthful lives.
However we have all been forced at one time or another to manipulate, adjust or amend the truth to make it work for whatever social circumstance we might be facing. Those of us who are raising children, especially teenagers, hate liars. But lying seems to be sewn into the fabric of their human development.
From the time your children are crawling, you remind them that lying is unacceptable. When they are very small, you hold them accountable for their lies and make sure they have consequences for their lies.
When small children lie they often don't think. They especially don't think about consequences. However as children mature and grow older, their lying becomes more sophisticated and complicated. They are not really good at it. Most times they even get caught.
For the most part the lying that goes on during the pre-junior high years is harmless. At this stage of development, kids lie about homework, test grades and why Mom could not sign the failing test paper.
However, when our children graduate to junior and senior high school, lying becomes an art. Not really a good one, but an art nonetheless. It is not viewed as lying, but rather telling the selective truth.
A creative illustration: Nick is sixteen. He asks his Mom if he can stay overnight at Mike's. Mom knows Mike and likes him. She says sure. What Nick does not tell his Mom is that he is going clubbing with some girls he met in a controversial chat room on the internet and will not be going to Mike's until 3am.
He is using his mother's car, which she told him had to be in Mike's driveway before 9pm. He only has a junior license. On his way home at 2am, Nick gets a flat tire. He does not have a jack in the car, nor do any of his buddies. Now he is forced to call his mother. He tries to circle around her, but he is caught. After a half hour of circling around the issues, Nick finally confesses. His mother is shocked and appalled that he would be so devious. His response to her is "lighten up Mom, everyone drives with their junior license." It did not faze him that he left out some other rather pertinent information about his evening. He really believes it is not a big deal.
Teenagers seem to master the art of selective truth telling. They rarely blatantly lie. They just leave out certain facts or tell you on a need to know basis. From their perspective, most things you don't need to know.
Why do so many young people lie or misrepresent the truth? Maybe we need to ask ourselves about the quality of our honesty.
Unconsciously, at times we model behavior that is less than honorable and even bluntly dishonest. How often have you called in sick when you were not sick? How many times have you told your son or daughter that you would protect their privacy or confidence and did not? They have gone off to school and you poked around their room, read their journal entries or searched their dresser drawers.
Maybe you have really become suspicious, so you check your teenager's laundry for contraband or even check the car at night to see what might have been left behind.
The real conflict emerges when your teenager decides he wants to smoke pot and possibly even grow it in the backyard. Obviously this behavior is against the law. It becomes very complicated when one's bright son sees that his parents smoke socially, so why can't he?
We have to work harder at bridging the inconsistencies in our parenting behavior. We cannot expect our kids to do what we say, not what we do. That approach is not fair or honest. If we expect honesty and truth, then we must live honesty and truth. The days of double standards must die.
One of the great challenges of our present age as it relates to raising teenagers is that we all want to believe our children are telling the truth, even though our intuition tells us they are lying.
If we confront our son or daughter about a circumstance we perceive as not truthful, we run the risk that our son or daughter might lie. If you let it go, you are reinforcing that dishonesty is okay. If you confront it, you are probably preparing for world war three. Even though most teenagers may give academy award winning performances about the identified circumstance, you know they are still lying. However, they are relentless. They figure they will just wear you out with their tenacity.
For many teenagers, lying is a phase. It is a rite of passage into young adulthood. When they get there, they usually move beyond their dishonesty. However, some teenagers get stuck there. That behavior can become very dangerous and infect their entire lives, destroying relationships and blocking any real personal growth and development.
As parents, we need to practice what we preach. We need to hold our children accountable. Lying can never be acceptable. It always causes a breach in trust. Our teenagers need to know it and see it. It can be fixed, but that demands patience, hard work and forgiveness.
We must not compromise in this area. Lying and deception is an infection that is becoming epidemic. It is a major cause of the breakdown of human relationships that are vital for growth and development as people.
As parents, we must set a high standard in this area and lead by example.