Remember that little cutie with Oreo crumbs on her lips swearing she had not eaten any cookies? Or the little scamp with dragon-caliber morning breath swearing that he had brushed his teeth? When they were little, lying was kinda cute. But now that your little rascal has grown into a crafty, poker-faced teen, lying isn’t very cute anymore.
But parents are smarter than their teens; we know when it’s time to call in the experts for help. Dr. Lillian Glass, a nationally known body language and communication expert and the author of The Body Language of Liars, offers parents five tips to help determine if your teen is lying (and what to do about it):
How To Tell If Your Teenager Is Lying
1. Observe your teen’s body language.
According to Dr. Glass, liars have physical “tells” that give them away. They may shuffle their feet around, fidget, scratch their heads, touch their face, or put their hands over their mouths. Also, they may blink a lot. If you have taught your teen to look people in the eye when they speak to them, you may note that they are suddenly having a very hard time making eye contact, and instead are looking down. For the advanced teen liar who has figured that one out, you may notice “excessive, unwavering eye contact, to the point where they are almost staring at you without blinking.”
2. Beware of teens bearing gifts of too much information.
Dr. Glass states that liars will try to bolster their lies and convince you with lots of details and extraneous information. If your normally monosyllabic teen who never talks to you is suddenly quite chatty, or explains why he is late getting home with elaborate details, or tells you convoluted stories with lots of tangents—yep, he’s probably lying.
3. Listen for signs of stress in their voice.
Dr. Glass notes that a liar’s voice can be an indicator of deception. You might notice cracking in their voice, stammering, hesitation, or tentativeness.
4. Context is everything.
Parents should evaluate any “tells” in the context of your teen’s normal behavior. She’s not lying simply because she is shuffling her feet or blinking a lot. Most teens lie “to get away with things or to be able to do what they want, like going to parties, concerts, or a friend’s house.” Teen lying is usually more obvious, and less contrived or sophisticated than adult lying.
If you suspect that your teen is lying, explore their behavior with questions. Try to differentiate the normal behavior of your teen from unusual or evasive behavior. But if you observe physical signs of deception, “don’t accuse your teen of lying,” warns Dr. Glass. “You don’t want to create a liar by putting your child in a position where they will not confide in you.”
5. Never give away your secrets.
Whatever you do, don’t reveal the “tells” you have observed. Once they know, they will stop doing them. And then it will be harder for you to ascertain truthfulness. After all, parents need every advantage we can get.