The Teen Tango: Signs that your teen is dancing around the truth

Plenty has been published about how to tell if a person is lying. Body language clues, changes in inflection, and eye shifts can all give away the secrets that the liar is trying to protect. The same behaviors can apply to teenagers, but since they lie much more than the average adult, they’re more practiced in the art. That means that you have to be a regular Sherlock Holmes to discern a teenager’s fabrication from the truth. Here are some clues that your teenagers may be lying to you:

1. They hesitate before answering. It’s almost a dead giveaway. If they have to think about the answer, chances are they are about to make up at least part of the story.

2. They over-explain. Rather than stopping at a simple, one-sentence explanation, they go out of their way to manufacture an entire story. As we know, teens are usually people of few words, especially when talking to parents, so when they suddenly become verbose, be skeptical.

3. They will throw a friend under the bus in order to preserve their integrity with you. Think along the lines of “Those are John’s cigarettes, not mine” or “Kathy was drinking, but I wasn’t.” This is a method of deflection, a red herring so to speak. The best arsenal you have against this type of lie is to ask for John’s or Kathy’s parents’ numbers and suggest that you’re going to call them. Teenagers NEVER, EVER let other teens take the fall for them, so if they think it might happen, they will absolutely fess up.

4. Upon further questioning, they contradict themselves. They can’t keep their story straight or the numbers don’t add up. When this happens, something is awry. Guaranteed.

5. They look you straight in the eye, their gaze never wavering. Teens are smart and they know that everyone thinks liars look away from lie-ees. Therefore, they deliberately do the opposite. But think about it. When was the last time your teenagers looked you straight in the eye during a discussion? If anything, you can barely get their attention amidst all of the texting and TV watching and Internet surfing. In fact, it’s likely you’ve forgotten their eye color. Until, that is, they tell you a lie.

Even the best kids lie, and it’s not always necessary to openly call them on it. Just knowing is good enough, and these tips should help you to take the lead in the Teen Tango.

Do your kids need to know your dirty little secrets?

Imagine this: You’re brushing your hair, getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, and your teenager is chatting to you. He is telling you about some people he knows who are into the drug scene. You’ve talked about this in the past, and he knows where you stand and what your expectations are for him, so you’re comfortable with the conversation. That is, until he asks this question: “So, have you ever tried drugs?” He watches you intently, studying your facial expression, waiting for any sign of affirmation or denial.

You think hard and quick. You try not to have an anxiety attack about the fact that your answer will probably make a difference, one way or the other, in your kid’s future decisions. Neither of your options seems especially desirable. If you’ve done drugs, then your kid will think you’re a hypocrite for telling him not to. If you haven’t, he will question your ability to understand and write you off as uninformed.

Seconds are ticking and you’re in the Hot Seat. What do you do?

If you haven’t encountered this question yet, you are one lucky duck. You have time to prepare, and prepare you must, because it WILL happen. If it’s not about drugs, it will be about getting drunk, or having sex, or doing something really, really stupid. If you’re close with your kids, it will be about all of these things and much, much more.

There are two schools of thought on how to handle these occurrences. One is to be honest – always – with your kids. I don’t subscribe to that school. The other is to lie. I don’t subscribe to that school, either, although I’ve made exceptions.  So where does that leave me in my search for the “right” answer to this question? Well, I believe that you have to know your kids.You have to have an inherent sense of what they can hear and be okay with, and what they should never hear because it will do them no good to hear it. Will it benefit your kids to know that you did drugs? Only if you have a profound lesson to share that will impact them and help them to make the smart choice. Will it help your kids to know about your sexual encounters? Um, no. I haven’t met a kid yet who is curious about his parents’ sex life. When they come to you about advice in that area, they want knowledge and wisdom and insight, not personal experience. Will it help your kids to know about mistakes you’ve made and regrets you have? Again, if you feel that your kids could benefit from your experience and they’ve specifically asked you about it, share it. But don’t feel like you have to reveal all of your uncomfortable, regrettable mistakes from your past in the interest of honesty. If they don’t ask, don’t tell.

Your kids are not your therapists, or your priests, or your problem solvers. And they are not your friends. They are your kids. Save the confidences and revelations for your buddies. And all of your past actions that you wish you could forget? File them under “Seemed like a good idea at the time,” and let yourself off the hook. We were all young and stupid once.