Since speaking the truth is a bit of fetish with me, the process of lying and reasons to lie, particularly among teenagers with whom I have been interacting as an educator in international schools for over two decades, has been of great interest to me.
In one of the international schools I taught at, a student of mine who had not done her assignment, walked up to me and asked, “Sir do you want to know the truth or the story?’’ I have always had a good rapport with my students and hence I told her that I would like to know both. So she said, “The story is that my computer has crashed and the truth is that I was partying too late into the night and have not completed any of my assignments.’’ She was a very studious and conscientious student and I was a bit surprised that she was going to tell `the story’ to the rest of her teachers. When I question her about it she said it was too much of a bother, to tell the truth, and in any case, she was not interested in the sermonizing that would follow.
Recently over a casual conversation on ethical issues with a large group of teenaged students, I decided to conduct an experiment and asked those who lied to their parents to raise their hands. It was quite amusing to see that each and every one of them, some of them a little reluctantly albeit, raise their hands. And then there was a chorus of, “Of course you have to lie, are you nuts? If we tell the truth they will lecture us forever, they will throw me out of the house, they will not let me step out of the house,’’ etc.
Teenagers lie for many reasons. They may do so assuming a parent’s disapproval for their actions because they feel that you will not understand them, because they don’t’ want to hurt you or because they are protecting a wayward friend who gets into trouble. They can also lie because they are upset about something and don’t want to talk about it. In the light of this it is not unusual for a parent to be tearing her hair and complaining that her child lies to her all the time and about everything – about the movies he watches, the people he hangs out with, his homework, his grades and so on.
So what do you do as a parent? First of all, stop taking it personally. Don’t get on to the “How can she lie to ME, her own mother?’’ kind of a trip. Then the issue becomes about you rather than about your child’s lying. Secondly, accept that a teenager has too many things happening in her mind and body and she really wants to be left alone rather than be questioned. Accept that your children lie to you about small and big things and any parent who says that his teenaged son or daughter `shares everything with me’ is fooling himself.
Am I proposing that parents should be okay with their children’s lying? Not at all because small lies about homework and late nights could translate into bigger ones about drug and alcohol abuse. It is important to become a knowledgeable parent who understands how the teen mind works. Don’t challenge them with moral turpitude when you catch them lying but discuss the issue that made them lie. Impress upon them the importance of speaking the truth without sermonizing and finally know that every teenager has an amazing secret life of her own. Give her some space.
Director of Schools
Rajasthani Sammelan Education Trust.