Why Your Teen is Lying to You and How to Handle It

It turns out, 96% of teenagers admit to lying to their parents...

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Why Your Teen is Lying to You and How to Handle It

Co-Written by: Marybeth Bock & Nancy Reynolds

There you are, in the grocery store grabbing a few things for dinner when you run into the mom of one of your son’s friends. Striking up a conversation, she tells you how great it was to see your son last Friday night when she picked the boys up from that party they went to across town. 

Party? You think to yourself. Your son told you he was spending the night at a friend’s house and that they were just going to hang out, order a pizza and play video games. 

Trying to hide your confusion, you tell the mom how much you loved catching up and you walk away with a smile. But inside, your mind is racing… “Why would my son lie to me?” “What is he hiding?” “What else has he lied about?” 

If you’ve caught your teen in a lie, just know it’s not the end of the world. The fact is, the vast majority of teenagers admit to lying to their parents at one time or another.

Research by Nancy Darling, an expert on teens and lying, revealed that nearly 96% of teens lie to their parents. In another study, 82% of high school and college students admitted to lying to their parents in the previous year. The bottom line is, teen lying is far more common than most parents realize.

Why Your Teen is Lying to You and How to Handle It


Why Do Teenagers Lie?

Because teens are getting older and tugging at the ropes of independence, it should only be expected that they might want a little more privacy in their lives, to call the shots on at least some things, and even push a few boundaries from time to time, which can lead to lying or “bending the truth.”

And, if you’ve ever caught your teen in a lie, you know… they can be quite convincing! According to one study, teenagers are, overall, the best liars out of all age groups with most teens lying to their parents, on average (gasp!), three times a day. 

What Do Teens Lie About?

There’s a myriad of things teenagers might lie about, but some of the top things include:

  • Their whereabouts or what they were doing 
  • Who they’re hanging with (friends/girlfriend/boyfriend)
  • Whether a parent will be home at a friend’s house
  • Whether a party is supervised or unsupervised
  • Whether they vaped, consumed alcohol, or did drugs
  • Whether they finished homework, studied, or finished a school project
  • Whether they were speeding, texting and driving, or being a “safe driver”
  • Their feelings (“Saying “I don’t really care,” or “It doesn’t bother me,” when it does.)
  • Their emotions (Saying “I’m fine” when they’re not.)

Top Reasons Why Teenagers Lie

Now that we’ve settled the fact that teens are, generally speaking, notorious fibbers, let’s take a look at why they lie.

1.  To assert their independence 

Developmentally, our kids’ teen years are all about helping them gain autonomy and teaching them how to stand on their two feet. But quite often, there’s a gap between how much independence a parent is willing to give and how much independence a teen wants, thus, that’s where the lying comes into play.

From lying about how much homework they have and who they’re hanging with to what they spend their money on and what they do when they’re hanging with friends, teenagers might lie to feel in more control of their own lives and have more privacy.

2. To avoid getting into trouble

Your son walks in past curfew. To avoid getting a lecture (or facing consequences), he lies and says a friend asked for a ride and he had to drop them off at home. Your daughter accidentally backed the car into a post causing a dent in the back fender. When you ask her about it, she lies and denies having anything to do with it. 

Getting grounded, losing car privileges, not being able to hang out with friends on a Friday night, having to do extra chores over the weekend – few teens want to face the music when it comes to admitting fault – especially if it means there will be consequences to their actions. Rather than fess up to their mistake, they take their chances and lie. 

3. To do something they know parents wouldn’t approve of

You told your daughter you didn’t want her hanging with a boy you feel is a bad influence on her. Since she knows you won’t approve, she tells you she’s going to her friend’s house after school, but instead she hangs out with the boy. 

Sneaking around, lying, bending the truth – nearly every teenager has lied so they can do something they know their parents wouldn’t approve of.

While it’s another way of asserting their independence over their own lives, what most teenagers don’t realize is that sometimes, those seemingly harmless “white” (or blatant) lies can put them in serious danger.

4. To protect or defend a friend

For a lot of teens, their friends aren’t simply their friends… they’re family. And, they’d do anything to protect them – even if it involves lying to their parents. If a friend is into vaping, drinking, drugs, or sneaking out at night, for example, chances are your teen won’t share those tidbits of information with you out of fear it will either put their friend in a bad light or, worse, prompt you to forbid your teen from hanging out with them anymore. 

The fact is, our teens’ friends have an enormous influence on their lives. And the desire to fit in and be accepted by their friends can be a powerful force that can trigger teens to lie. 

5. To avoid embarrassment

The normal day-to-day life of a teenager can have its share of insecure feelings and embarrassing moments. Rather than tell a parent that they got turned down by a girl, that they didn’t make the team or they didn’t get asked to the dance, they might lie to save themselves the embarrassment or frustration of having their parent ask too many questions. For teens, it’s better to avoid the situation altogether by making up a lie.

6. To cover up difficult feelings & emotions

Being a teenager is hard. Especially in a world that can be judgmental, competitive, and downright scary. Many teens keep a whole lot of feelings bottled up to avoid appearing weak, to avoid questions or criticism, because they simply haven’t come to terms with how to deal with them, or because they don’t want their parents to worry. Thus, they’ll lie. 

A teen who is experiencing social anxiety may lie about why they don’t want to participate in activities. A teen who is grappling with their sexuality may not want to admit who they’re attracted to. And a teen who’s been struggling with anxiety or depression may try to cover it up and claim they’re “fine” to avoid discussing it with a parent. 

How to Respond to a Teen When They Lie

All teenagers – even those labeled as “good kids” by their parents – are fully capable of lying. Because most lies that teens tell are fairly harmless in nature, it’s always a good rule of thumb to try not to overreact or call your teen a “liar.” Instead, focus on the “why.” 

Sit down with your teen calmly (before you slap on any disciplinary consequences) and ask them why they lied, why they felt the need to lie as opposed to coming to you with the truth, and what (if anything) they were trying to cover up.

Remember, (in most cases) it’s not their intent to deliberately hurt you. The more calm and rational you are, the more likely your teen will be to come to you and be honest moving forward.

The goal is to open the lines of communication with your teen, keep them open, and draw them closer to you – not push them away. If you fly off the handle and lose your cool, you’ll actually be perpetuating the lying by sending the message that you can’t be trusted with their secrets and they can’t come to you without you overreacting.

Of course, if you find that lying is becoming a habit with your teen, you need to establish reasonable consequences for their behavior and seek professional help if the lying is tied to seriously risky or harmful behavior. If you think your teen’s lying has become compulsive, this article from PsychCentral includes helpful information and resources.

5 Ways to Encourage Honesty in Your Teen

1. Avoid overreacting and harsh interrogations

When your teen feels like they are being interrogated or yelled at every turn, it will trigger them to become defensive and, in turn, more secretive about their life. Remember, you don’t always have to agree with your teen, (conflict between parents and teens is normal), but you always have a choice in how you respond.

2. Promote trust in your relationship

Make your teen part of the process when establishing rules and consequences that are fair and make sense to both of you. When they have a say and feel respected and heard, teens are much more apt to be honest. The best way to build trust is to create a partnership with your teen and solve problems together.

3. Be willing to negotiate

There are going to be instances when you and your teen disagree on boundaries, rules, or how much freedom you give them. Let your teen know that if they present their case in a calm, respectful manner you’ll be willing to listen. If they state a reasonable case that makes sense to you, be willing to change your rule. The more your teen feels that you’re willing to negotiate on some things, the more they’ll understand when you have to stand your ground.

4. Be an “honest” role model

When you fess up and admit to making a mistake, when you talk openly about your successes and your failures,  and when you apologize when you overreact or snap at your teen, you’re teaching them the beauty of honesty. Through you, they’ll learn that no one is perfect, that mistakes can and do happen, that oftentimes mistakes can be made right, and that dishonesty rarely makes things better in the long run.

5. Celebrate their honesty when they confide in you

It takes a lot for your teen to come to you and admit when they messed up royally, broke a rule, or lied about something. So, when they do, you need to let them know how much you appreciate their bravery and honesty. Even if consequences are in order, when they know they can come to you about anything and you won’t freak out (too much, anyway) or shame them, they’ll be far more likely to share their world with you.

Getting to the bottom of it when your teen is lying to you requires tremendous self-restraint and the ability to stay focused on your connection. 

Remember, your teen isn’t trying to disappoint you, they’re simply still in the process of becoming emotionally mature and honest with both themselves and us. Take a deep breath, communicate with respect, give grace, and keep on loving them with all your heart.

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


If you enjoyed reading, Why Your Teen is Lying to You and How to Handle It,” here are a few other posts you might like:

6 Eye-Opening Reasons Why You Should Stop Yelling at Your Teen

When Your Kids Become Teenagers, That’s When the REAL Worry Kicks In

Who Knew My Teen Pulling Away Would Hurt My Heart This Much

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