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.
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.
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.)
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.