Dear Rachel,

My son, now 14, has started a streak of lying. He tells me he does things (like brush his teeth) and then I find out that he didn't. He tells me that he doesn't get his grades for his tests in school, but then I found out from a friend that the kids do get their test grades. He does extremely well in school so there is no reason for him to lie to me. I have discussed the matter with him but he seems to continue to lie. The problem has been occurring for approximately three months now. I want him to understand that lying is unacceptable. Do you have any suggestions?

Frustrated Mom
Nashville, TN

Dear Frustrated Mom,

Being lied to is an awful feeling. Being lied to by your own child can feel like a downright betrayal. I can understand your frustration over this matter and your urgency to resolve it.

Fundamentally, lying is never okay. That much is clear. The question that needs to be addressed is why is your son lying? Is he perhaps testing boundaries? Did something occur over the last three months that prompted this new behavior? Is something going on in his life that he feels unable to express? Ultimately, your son is the only one with the answers to these questions.

You can’t do his work for him. But you can begin to take a look at the possibility that you may have a role to play in his behavior. As Chassidut teaches us, everything that happens in our lives, every challenge, ‘every leaf that falls from a tree’ is an opportunity for us to learn and grow. You can begin by asking yourself some fundamental questions about your relationship with your son. For example, "Am I giving my son enough independence to make his own choices?" "Am I approachable?" "Do I allow my son the opportunity to make mistakes and grow from them without fear of punishment from me?"

Sometimes we come down on our kids so hard when they don’t perform the way we expected them to, that they find it “easier” to lie about it then to deal with our wrath. We have to be willing to look at ourselves with the same scrutiny that we afford our kids.

In terms of your discovery of his lie(s), it is important to remember that there are always natural consequences for our behaviors. It is imperative that a growing teenager understand that concept. If your son doesn’t brush his teeth, he could likely develop cavities, which will likely lead to fillings, which in turn will lead to a large dental bill, which ultimately could lead to your son spending a chunk of his allowance to pay for it – for example. Experiencing a natural consequence is really much more of a gift then it is a punishment. If his lying is stemming from a desire for more independence then he will come to appreciate the notion of taking responsibility for his actions.

Additionally, I encourage you to create opportunities to connect with your son on neutral grounds. You don’t necessarily have to have a "lets talk about your lying" conversation, but rather, you can make “special” time to do something fun together. The idea is to make a connection with him and to see if that leads you to a more open and honest relationship. If his lying persists and he continues to be non-communicative about why he is doing it, maybe you could suggest to a family member or teacher, or someone else that he trusts to try talking to him to see if there is something deeper going on that he feels unable to communicate with you.

I look forward to hearing good things. Please keep me updated on your (and his) progress.