I'll never forget the first time I caught my oldest son
Cole, then 11, in an obvious lie.
He had attended a 6th grade dance at the middle school,
and several moms who were acting as chaperones reported back to me that Cole had slow danced
with a girl I will call Hailey Smith.
The next day, I said to him, "So, I heard you danced with Hailey
Smith last night."
He looked at me blankly. Then out came these words: "I've
never heard of a girl by that name."
I was taken aback. I
never would have suspected that my son was capable of such a flat-out
It is developmentally appropriate for tweens to start guarding their privacy.
Psychologists, however, say that it's normal for pre-teens
to lie occasionally. And unless the
lying becomes chronic or is coupled with destructive behavior it's relatively
Here, experts explain the three types of lies pre-teens
typically tell, and how to deal with each:
The "mom, back off"
denials. These are the lies, or
omission of truths, that tweens tell when they feel their privacy is being
Why they tell them: As pre-teens
separate from their parents, they don't want to share all the details of their
lives with them anymore, says Sandra Burkhardt, a psychology professor at
Saint Xavier University in Chicago. This likely explains why my son lied to me
about his dancing partner. He was really
telling me: "None of your business."
How to handle them: Acknowledge you may have stepped over
your boundaries and don't press the issue, advises Burkhardt. Then the next time around, stick to less
pointed questions, such as "How was the dance?" "Sometimes parents think their
kids should talk to them about anything," says Burkhardt. But it is developmentally appropriate for
tweens to start guarding their privacy, even with parents, she adds.
The "cover my tracks"
lies. Your child fibs about watching
a movie at a friend's house she knows you wouldn't approve of or says she's
done her homework when she hasn't.
Why they tell them: Sure, they don't want to get in trouble, but
an even bigger motivator often is that they don't want to disappoint you, says Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan, child and
adolescent psychiatrist in Los Angeles.
How to handle them: Address
the root problem, advises Narasimhan. It could be that your expectations or rules are too strict. If you are significantly stricter than other
parents, you may be putting your child in a difficult social situation where lying is the likely outcome. Or maybe your
child needs more support. For example,
if your daughter can't finish her homework, she may need extra help in the
Also, try not to overreact when your child confesses to a
screw-up; otherwise he may decide lying is a safer strategy than the truth. "Your
child should know yes, there will be consequences, but the message you want to
give is, `We know you will make mistakes, and we don't expect you to be perfect
all the time,'" says Narasimhan.
Tall tales. This
is when you overhear your 11-year-old tell a friend that Justin Bieber is
coming to her school to perform even though last time you checked, Elmwood
Elementary wasn't on his concert tour.
Why they tell them: The simple answer is your child's probably
trying to impress the friend. But
something more is happening, too. Usually
these aren't conscious lies, says Burkhardt; your child is expressing what she wishes
would happen. Like younger children, many pre-teens mix fact
with fantasy because their brains haven't fully matured yet. Then wish-fulfillment can cause them to
select the outcome they want to hear. On
some level, your child really thinks Justin Bieber might show up at her school,
says Burkhardt. After all, it is possible!
How to handle them: Either
ignore them or if you feel the need to correct your child, do so gently with a
technique Burkhardt calls "benign disbelief." She
recommends saying something like, "It would be nice if Justin Bieber came to
your school, but I don't think he probably has the time." This way, you let your child down gently.
By the way, this "tall tale" phase won't last
much longer; the chemical changes in the brain that occur during puberty knock out
this remnant of childish thinking, according to Burkhardt. So take a moment to enjoy your child's
creative stories, and relish the information she gives about her soon-to-be
secret inner life.