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Your Kid's a Liar (Science Says So)

Photograph by Twenty20

When I was a freshman in high school my friend Michelle pulled out a picture of a guy and asked me what I thought of him. I told her the truth, that I thought he looked like a greasy child molester and was in dire need of a shower. Turns out it was an older guy that she was really in love with. It wasn't my fault that with his grubby beard and tattered suede vest he didn't look like the rest of the nice ninth-grade boys I was used to. I apologized profusely, but I don't think she heard me because she was too busy ripping off the macraméed friendship bracelet she had bought both of us at Woolworths.

Our friendship didn't end that day, but it was never the same after that. In hindsight, here's what I should have done: I should have lied. And according to scientific research, as a teenager, I should have been at the peak of my game in telling untruths.

Related: 14 Times I Was Paranoid About My Teens

Scientists at the University of Amsterdam recently tested more than 1,000 people, aged 6 to 77, on their inclination to lie. They were asked a simple question prompting them to either lie or tell the truth, and also asked how frequently they lied. The results? Teenagers were found to have the ability to lie the most quickly and correctly, and admitted to telling an average of 2.8 lies in the last 24 hours. So if you catch your teen telling you he's going to the library when he's really heading to a friend's keg party, beware—he's still got 1.8 lies left to tell you in the next day or so.

Why go through the grief of trying to talk you into letting them go to a party, when they can just go and maybe deal with the consequences later?

I know my story about hurting my BFF's feelings doesn't fit in with the usual "teen lying about drinking the vodka" story, but it stands out for me because it was a turning point. It was when I realized that by lying I could possibly save myself a lot of trouble and make a situation easier. I knew then that the next time someone asked my opinion on a boy, I would definitely say something like, "He's totally hot," even if he looked like John Wayne Gacy. By lying I could avoid conflict and maintain the status quo—and possibly keep friends.

I feel convenience is what's behind a lot of adolescent lying, anyway. If we catch our wonderful, virtuous kids in a lie, we often wonder where we went wrong and start looking for some deep, dark flaw in their psyche, when it might just be that they didn't want to have to deal (at the moment, at least) with the uncomfortable feelings and awkwardness that telling the truth would present. Why go through the grief of trying to talk you into letting them go to a party, when they can just go and maybe deal with the consequences later? (That same scientific study also pointed to a lower level of "inhibitory control" in teenagers and young adults, suggesting that their lying is largely impulsive and not calculated.)

While being deceitful certainly shouldn't be encouraged, I think we can all rest easier knowing that we're not alone, and that lying is a phase that most kids go through. As they mature, they'll hopefully come to find out that telling the truth is beneficial and in the end far less painful than dealing with the aftermath of being deceptive.

Related: 99% of Parents Think You Should Take Your Parenting Studies and Shove It

And Michelle, if you're reading this, I apologize again for hurting your feelings—but to tell the truth, that guy really was creepy looking.

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