The Cost of Lying

When a child or teen lies habitually, there may be more going on than you realize
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In my line of work as a parenting magazine editor and mother of three, it often happens that a life experience inspires a Carolina Parent feature. Such is the case with our May issue.

During the last couple of years, one member of our family became very close to someone who, we soon discovered, had lied to us habitually and compulsively for over a year. At first, we gave this person our full trust and the benefit of the doubt. By the time the pattern was in full force and could no longer be ignored, our family had already opened our arms and hearts to this person — only to be stung with a string of lies ranging from unnecessary white lies, to serious, harmful lies. It broke all of our hearts.

On a more positive note, it inspired me to assign a two-part series on the subject to one of our most accomplished writers. “The Truth About Lying,” by Parenting Media Association Gold winner Caitlin Wheeler, represents the first installment of two features that focus on why children and teens lie, and when those lies should be regarded as serious enough to warrant professional help.

Part one digs into the psychology of lying — what motivates children to lie and how their young brains manage the internal conflict of whether to lie or not. We offer strategies for how parents can deal with their children's lies, and make suggestions for when parents should seek professional help. Henry Yin, a research neuroscientist for the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, explains that when someone lies, there is always a conflict in the brain; telling the truth is natural. We explore how parents can identify if a child encompasses enough insight to detect the risks associated with the conflict of telling a lie. This is key.

Part two focuses on how genetic makeup and childhood experiences can cause certain teens to be prone to developing a personality disorder. These teens often lack the necessary emotional tools for interacting with others and functioning normally in society. One way they compensate for these missing tools is by — you guessed it — lying. According to UNC School of Medicine Psychiatrist Keenan Penaskovic, lying alone is not definitive of an underlying personality disorder, but can suggest one in combination with other symptoms. If it turns out that your child is developing a personality disorder, the clock is ticking. Once he or she turns 18, you have much less say over whether or not your child gets the help he or she needs. Ironically, many personality disorders can't be diagnosed until a child turns 18.

Let’s face it — we all lie. Often, we tell white lies in an effort to protect another from hurt feelings, to cover up poor or embarrassing decisions, or to simply make small talk. Less often, we tell lies to hurt someone or damage their reputation; or to conceal immoral or illegal behavior. Those are the lies that can destroy lives.

Our kids are listening. We may fool them when we lie, but they also learn how to lie from us. What are you teaching your kids when you lie, and how is that working for them — and you? I challenge you to embrace our series on lying as a way to detect potentially harmful habits your child may be developing, and to analyze your own behavior and the lessons you’re teaching your child. It could be an eye-opening — and life-preserving — experience for you both.


Beth Shugg is editor of Carolina Parent and mom to a 21-year-old, 20-year-old and 17-year old. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethpshugg.


Categories: Education, Family, From the Editor, Parenting