Why Do Teens Lie?

Published September 14, 2018
Teen not being honest with adult

From protecting their privacy to covering up a problem, teens lie in personal, social, and professional situations for lots of different reasons. Purposefully bending or twisting the truth usually provides some type of benefit to the adolescent telling the lie or the person being lied to. Understanding the reasons for teens lying can help you determine how to respond.

To Fulfil a Desire

Teen brains are set up to work in a self-centered way. Youth think they know what's best and have a strong need to fulfil their wants at all times. When parents or teachers impose strict rules and regulations, it goes against what the teen brain wants. Lying is one simple strategy that helps teenagers get around these guidelines with little conflict. For example, if a teen wants to go to a friend's house and knows his parents won't approve, he might say he's going somewhere else.

For the Sake of Privacy

As teens work toward becoming totally independent adults, they find areas they'd like to avoid sharing with friends or adults in their lives. Lying about deeply personal information gives youth a chance to keep some details to themselves. This often occurs when it comes to sharing dating and relationship details.

To Spare Someone's Feelings

Sometimes telling the truth can hurt, like if a friend is really bad at an activity or not fun to be around because they are always complaining and whining. Teens sometimes think being a good friend means not having conflicts or fights with their friends. In cases like this, telling the truth might cause their friend pain or embarrassment, and a lie can sometimes seem kinder.

Because of Fear of Punishment

Teachers, bosses, and caregivers set most of the rules for teens, and breaking these rules often comes with some form of punishment. No one likes the feeling of being punished, so teens use lying to avoid this negative feeling. If a teen forgot to do her homework, she might lie and tell her teacher she lost it on the way to school to avoid redoing it during a study hall. Sometimes, the fear is more about disappointing a teacher or parent, which can feel like a punishment for many teens.

For Control

Some people have a need to be in control of all things at all times. Teens who don't want to feel like they're being controlled use lying to stay in the power position for their own life. If a teen feels like he's old enough to make his own decisions about almost anything, he might distort the truth so his parents think they are in control while he actually makes his own choices.

To Please Others

The term people-pleaser can apply to people of any age, especially teenagers. Fitting in is important during adolescence, and lying is one way to make sure you fit in everywhere. This form of manipulating the truth often comes with good intentions but still causes just as many problems as lying with malicious intent. By telling everyone what they want to hear rather than what she truly thinks or feels, a teen might make others happy in the moment but probably not in the long run.

For Malicious Intent

Some people simply enjoy manipulating and hurting other people. Lying is a great way to cause problems for others or put them in potentially harmful situations. It also makes the liar feel powerful over others. These types of teens could be considered bullies and might be struggling with mental health concerns.

To Cover Up a Problem

Teens engaging in problem behaviors like doing drugs or cutting know this behavior isn't acceptable, so they lie to hide it. Being judged negatively by peers and parents doesn't feel good, and these behaviors might get a teen sent for treatment. To avoid these unwanted consequences, teenagers might make up excuses why they look or act the way the do rather than admit to the problem they're having.

A Tool for Teens

As teens learn to navigate different kinds of relationships, they discover different tools that can help meet their needs and the needs of others. Sometimes lying is simply malicious, but more often it serves a deeper purpose.

Why Do Teens Lie?