My young teenage daughter fibbed to me the other day. It wasn’t a whopper, but it was one in an ongoing saga of lies that we’ve dealt with over the past few years.
So, instead of punishing her, I took her to Starbucks for a sugar-laden coffee drink.
Let me explain. We’ve cracked down on every mistruth she’s told before. We’ve grounded her and taken her phone. We’ve talked (ad nauseum) about earning trust. We’ve argued and pleaded. We’ve had her work toward earning trust back.
We’ve done all the things.
Because trusting your teen—especially in this day and age—is important. And if we can’t trust her with the little things, how can we trust her with the big things?
How can we put her behind the wheel of a car or believe she’ll call us when she’s in trouble or tell us if someone is hurting her? How can we send her off to college or on trips without us?
So, the other day, when she got caught, I was exasperated. I was at the end of my rope. I was over it.
When I confided in a friend, she stopped me in my tracks when she quietly said, “Don’t you remember how much we lied to our parents growing up?”
“But that was different,” I immediately responded.
And she laughed because of course I already saw the irony.
So, we talked about the reasons why I lied to my parents when I was growing up. Of course, it was because I felt like they could not relate to my life. And that I knew they would say no to me. And I was embarrassed to tell them certain things about boys or my friends or where I was going. And that I didn’t want them to be disappointed in me. And my personal favorite, I simply didn’t want to receive a lecture (apparently psychologists call this conflict avoidance).
I was different from my parents, though. Except lying between teenagers and their parents has been going on since the dawn of time.
In my mind, I created a personal narrative that justified my lying to my parents back in the day way more than my daughter’s lying to me now. I said to myself, “I didn’t lie about small things,” or “I talked to them about the important stuff,” but the truth is, sometimes I lied simply because it was easier.
I was caught in an ongoing circle of Hell with my daughter and the lies. I was looking for them all the time. I constantly asked if she was telling me the truth. I had to stop myself from checking up on her all the time.
This was never the relationship I wanted with one of my kids.
So, when I caught her in the last fib, instead of my normal flipping out or incessant lecture or off-the-cuff punishment, I told her we would talk about it the next day. After she came home from a long day of school, I loaded her up in the car and took her to the closest Starbucks. I let her buy whatever she wanted, and we sat down.
We chatted about her day and the plans for the weekend. She told me she was frustrated with her math teacher and I talked about a meeting that went wrong.
And then I told her that I used to lie to my parents, too, sometimes. I told her how lying got me in more trouble than it was worth, and how it hurt my relationship with my parents when I got caught, and now, looking back, how I could have done things differently. I explained that I wish I had more courage with my dad, and that I believed my mom when she told me I could talk to her.
I then talked about the different ways I wanted to trust her moving forward. I wanted to believe that she could be trusted behind the wheel of the car, out on dates, or with her friends, but that trust was a two-way street.
And I told her that no one can ever be trusted if they aren’t given opportunities to be trustworthy.
I explained that I wanted to take away some of the reasons she’s feeling the need to lie. I would back off on the barrage of questions and lectures if she promised to be a little more open and honest. I told her that I wanted to be there to teach and guide, instead of punish and blame.
There was a halfway point, but we’d both have to stretch ourselves to get there.
She nodded her head and didn’t say much, but my heart felt a little lighter. I’ve found out lately that so much of the suckiness in the teenage years is getting caught in a cycle, doing the same thing over and over again. Take away the friction, and oftentimes you can move on.
There is nothing more difficult in these challenging teenage years than finding the balance of your kid knowing there will be repercussions for their actions while also keeping an open line of communication.
The end goal is to ensure my daughters always know they can come to me—even if they might be grounded afterward.
Struggling with your teenager? We love this book The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults
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