Talking to teens
Finally, the answer has arrived to the age-old question and unsettling mystery of why teenagers lie. I know many of you – especially parents of teenagers – think you know the answer to that question, and have known for years: “Teenagers lie because they can!” Well, unfortunately, according to the teens I engaged in stimulating conversation as to why, when and how teenagers lie, “It’s on an as needed basis.”
“The key to lying,” said 16-year old Margo, “is not to tell a whole lie, or a whole truth. That way you can always say you were confused or didn’t remember the facts as they really were.”
Curious as to how teenagers seem to develop their extraordinary ease in lying, I asked if there was some type of liars’ club or workshop teenagers attend to learn such a skill.
“No, there’s not a club that I know of,” 18-year-old Tena said. “If you hear an especially good lie from one of your friends, and it fits your situation, you use it.”
Based on my conversation with other teens, Tena’s answer is correct, there is no Liars’ Club; it seems lying is a trait children development as toddlers and master with the on-set of puberty. Also, many teens have excellent adult role models in their lives who have mastered the art of lying. It is widely accepted that children emulate behavior modeled before them and have a tendency to repeat what is said around them.
As a parent of two teenagers, I know when I hear some of those flamboyant, outlandish and outrageous lies. I am absolutely sure they had to have made them up in some laboratory or liars’ club, but according to 14-year-old Debra of Austin Poly Tech, “most lies are made up on the spot.”
“Some of my best lies have been off the top of my head,” Debra said. “Like when I come in late and my mom asks where have you been? Now, the truth is I’ve been over to my boyfriend’s house, or somewhere else, I should not have been, so I lie,” she added. “I usually say I was with my best friend Alisha, knowing Alisha will back me up no matter what.”
Curious as to if teenage boys lie differently than teenage girls, I asked the teens if there are certain situations in which they simply will not tell the truth, no matter what. After much laughter, many gave pretty much the same answer, “Yes.”
Tim, 18, said the key to being good at lying is to keep it simple. “If you get caught in a lie,” he said, “tell another one, and then tell another one to cover that one up, but keep it simple. You keep it simple so you can recap it in your head and keep your story straight.”
Tim also said boys lie about different things than girls lie about. “Boys lie about their friends, taking the parents cars for joy rides, drinking beer and boosting stolen merchandise, where as girls lie about being at the mall or over at some dudes house. A girl will lie about where she has been, but a boy will lie about what time of day it is. It doesn’t matter; the key is to keep your business to yourself, and never admit to anything.”
I asked the teens if there are certain things in their life they are especially prone to lie about. Most agreed you should never admit to doing badly in school or getting in trouble.
“You never tell your mother about a bad grade,” Alisha said. “You let her find out on her own. Then, when they call your home or have your mother come up to the school, or when it comes in the mail, you make like you forgot to tell her.”
Marianna, 17, says she lies about her attendance all the time. “When my school calls home about me missing class, I say I was there and that the teacher didn’t take attendance,” she said. “That works unless I really cut school a lot, and then I have to come up with a better line like I was sitting in the back with my head down reading.”
Sabrina, an 18-year-old Harold Washington College freshmen said now that she is in college she doesn’t have to lie as much because she has more freedom. “When I was in high school,” she said, “I used to blame things on my friends. Like when I would cut school, I would say I was in the car with my friend and she didn’t want to go to school, so I was stuck not going to school.
“I have almost stopped lying altogether,” Sabrina added. “But now I have to remember the lies I told when I was in high school because sometimes my mom asks about a person or thing I said I did back then. I really have to rack my brain to remember. The worst thing I could do now is to have her find out about lies I told when I was a kid; she would never trust me again.”
I asked the teens how they get out of a situation when they are ambushed and caught in a lie.
“You lie again,” Tim said.
“You use guilt,” Sabrina said. “You say things like; I thought you were going to hit me, so I lied.”
I asked the teens what were some of the best lies they have ever told. There was no shortage of examples. Marianna said her favorite lies always involved her friends and coming home late or some curfew violation.
“We would take turns calling each others’ homes and pretend to be the teacher. We would say we had to stay after school to complete a project. Then, depending on what the weather was like, we would go to the mall or the park,” Marianna said.
“The best lie I ever told was when I had taken the car and didn’t get a chance to put it back before my mother knew it was gone,” said 16-year old Shontea. “I told her I had taken it to get it washed for her as a birthday surprise, but the carwash was closed. She thought that was so thoughtful, she didn’t even holler about me driving without a license.”
“I lie about my outfits all the time,” Yolanda, 15, said. “My mom is really strict, so I wear my real clothes underneath a baggy sweat shirt and pants and change once I get to school. Sometimes I hide the outfit in my book bag. One time I forgot to change back and walked in with this short skirt and low cut blouse and my mom screamed for an hour. Now she searches my book bag before I leave for school, so I keep my real outfits over at my girlfriend’s house.”
It seems many teens learn from their friends who readily share examples of lies and techniques as to which lies work best in certain situations. The older the teenager, the more skillful the delivery of the lie usually is. The lies are more colorful and complex. “Becoming a good liar is a necessary life-survival skill,” said Tim. “Sometimes, it’s the only thing between you and a guaranteed beat down from your parents.”