When your child is younger, spotting a fib isn’t much of a challenge. Little ones don’t quite have the skills they need to fabricate a plausible excuse, so picking apart a questionable story is usually the work of a moment. As kids get older and hone their skills in the world of deception, however, it usually becomes a bit more difficult to spot a false story. Accusing your teen of lying when she’s telling the truth can cause a major blow-up and do serious damage to your relationship, but letting her out of the house with a flimsy story can put her in dangerous situations. At no time in your child’s life is it more difficult to pick out a lie than when she’s a teenager, but it’s also the time when it’s most imperative. While there’s no fool-proof method of sussing out the truth when a teen is determined to lie, there are a few things you can keep in mind that may help you get to the bottom of a story before things get out of hand.
Look for Out-of-Character Behavior
Just as all poker players have a tell or two that will tip off an opponent in the know, everyone has a few tics that can give them away when they lie. The key to spotting suspicious behavior in your teen, however, is to be intimately familiar with her habits when she’s telling the truth. When you know your child and her mannerisms through and through, you’ll be better positioned to pick up on inconsistencies that indicate a lie or two. For instance, a teen that normally looks at the floor may be conscious that she needs to make eye contact in order to sell her story, and may hold that eye contact for so long that it tips you off to her tall tales. Any mannerisms that are out-of-character and suspicious can be indicators that she’s lying, so be on the lookout for changes in behavior.
It’s easy to get so caught up in trying to decode your teen’s behavior that you miss out on the most important aspect of determining the veracity of a story: just listening. Make sure that you pay attention to not only your teen’s mannerisms, but also what she says and how she says it. Long pauses after you ask a question are usually the result of your teen looking for holes in her story before answering, concocting an answer to your question that falls in line with her previous tale or to cover her tracks in case of a misstep. Slight stuttering or stammering or a change in pitch may also be indicators that your teen’s story isn’t entirely true.
Observe Her Body Language
A teenager that’s normally poised and graceful may have a perfect, seamless story to tell that fails only because her shifty body language betrays her. Look for fidgeting, excessive touching of the face, mouth or neck, tapping toes or a visible struggle to stand still. If your teen is suddenly fascinated with the hemline of a shirt or a stray thread poking out of a seam, she may be looking for an excuse to avoid making eye contact with you. Watching your child’s body language and comparing it with her normal behavior can give you a good idea of when her story is less than honest.
Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, or even the strange ones. Your job as a parent is to find out where your teen is going and what she’s up to, so don’t shy away from questioning a story that doesn’t sit right with you. Follow your instincts and listen to what your own experience tells you. If there’s a loose thread in your teen’s story, follow it to see how well that story holds up. Look for inconsistencies or discrepancies with the information you already have versus what she’s giving you.
While it may seem like trusting a teenager is just asking for trouble, you may be actively harming your relationship with her by questioning every word that falls from her mouth. Realizing the importance of showing her that you do trust her, and letting her know that you’re approachable when she’s in need of help or advice can actually foster a more open relationship that’s based on mutual trust and respect. When you work to build that trust, you won’t have to worry so much about picking apart her stories, as she’ll be more honest with you from the outset of a conversation. Accusing your child of lying when she’s telling you the truth only makes her angry and makes her more likely to stretch the boundaries of the truth in the future. After all, if she’s being accused of lying and punished undeservedly for dishonesty, why shouldn’t she at least earn your lack of trust and the penalties you level against her by doing exactly what you accuse her of?