Care and Feeding

My Teen’s Worrying Habit Is Destroying My Trust in Her

I’m concerned it’s only going to get worse as she gets older.

Girl covering her face with her hand and holding up her other hand out as if pushing away.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 13-year-old daughter, and she’s developed a worrying habit that I fear is only getting worse.

She lies about everything. Be it silly things or big deals, it feels like her go-to answer is to lie. For example, the other day her sister made us all a quick breakfast and I came downstairs to see that someone had eaten a bit of mine. I asked who did it, not angry—if anything to joke around with whomever did it, and remind them not to take things without asking. No one said anything. Instantly I knew it was her, but I didn’t want to put her on the spot, so I asked everyone individually. She lied to my face. Eventually her sister told on her. The response I get whenever I ask her why she lied is the same: “I don’t know.”

At this point, it is tough to not assume that she’s lying whenever she might get in trouble; the other day, she spent an hour pretending her phone was lost and tearing apart her room because she’s not allowed to have it in her room at bedtime. I take away her phone privileges, send her to her room early, etc., but it makes no difference. I’ve caught her in the stupidest of lies, and I’ve caught her lying about things she’s not supposed to do.

Now it just feels that me calling her out on lying all the time is just defining who she is. I can’t trust her, and surely the scale of things will only get bigger as she gets older. What do I do?

— She Won’t Stop Lying

Dear S.W.S.L.,

It is time for you to take your child to a counselor or therapist so that you can get to the bottom of her lying. You need to understand why she’s so dishonest, and if she even has any control over her storytelling. It’s one thing for a kid to lie when they’re scared of getting in big trouble, but if she’s uncomfortable telling the truth even in low-stakes situations, there’s gotta be something more to it. It sounds like for some reason, she doesn’t feel safe being honest and that says a lot about how she relates to the world around here. Surely the repercussions from eating a few bites of your breakfast wouldn’t have amounted to much more than a reminder to keep her hands on her own plate without asking, right? For your daughter, that was more than she could bear to handle. A professional can get to the heart of what she is dealing with emotionally that might be a barrier between her and her ability to tell the truth.

In the meantime, continue to encourage her to simply be honest with you. Remind her that there is nothing she can’t tell you, nothing she could ever say to stop you from loving her or caring for her. Talk about how dishonesty will impact her relationships with people who don’t have the same level of connection to her that you do, and how difficult it will be to survive school, work, and friendships if she cannot be trusted. Praise her when she is honest and shares something that she would have typically lied about.

Whatever you do, do not accept this as simply a matter of who your daughter is as a person. This behavior can and must be addressed seriously now so that lying doesn’t truly define who she is in the future. Wishing you all the best.

— Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My older sister and I are very close, and I missed her terribly while she was living on the other side of the country with her kids. This past year, she was able to move within a two-hour drive from me! I was so thrilled, and we immediately began planning family outings and visits with her two sons (who are almost 7 and 5) and mine (ages 7 and 10). Now that I see my nephews regularly, I realize that they are the most misbehaved kids I have ever encountered.