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Why Do Teens Lie? Ten Reasons TO HELP Parents Understand TeENS THAT LIE.

Updated: Feb 16

why do teens lie?

A study of 120 adolescents reveals intriguing patterns about why teens may choose to lie or keep secrets. It turns out that the decision to lie is not just a simple act of defiance; it's a complex interplay of family dynamics, individual beliefs, and the nature of the disagreement itself.

Who Am I?

I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with nearly a decade of experience working with families and teens. I'm a family systems therapist in my private practice, occasionally an adjunct professor, and a Clinical Supervisor.


As a Clinical Director for an adolescent treatment program for many years, I designed, ran, and trained staff to help parents understand and improve relationships within their families. "Why do teens lie?" is a question I have been asked a lot in my career, and here are some of my thoughts on the reasons teens do this:


I've worked with teens and families for over a decade and now train new therapists in evidence-based practices for working with youth. As a Clinical Director of an adolescent treatment center, I worked with families and teens with severe issues such as personality disorder traits, oppositional behaviors and compulsive lying. I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience in understanding the complexities of teenage lying.  

Why Do Teens Lie?

Teens lie because they are in a developmental period between feeling dependent on their caregivers, which is in total opposition to an increasing desire to be independent and psychologically mature; in fact, one study shows us that teens lie to feel more independent. However, that's only the tip of the iceberg, and other research shows a myriad of factors that contribute to a teen being dishonest; here are five possible reasons as to why teens lie:

  • To avoid punishment

  • To gain social status among friends

  • From peer pressure.

  • From low self-esteem

  • Out of fear

Why Do Teens Lie

Why Do Teens Lie? Tips for Parents

Teenagers are notorious for their inclination towards dishonesty, but understanding the reasons behind their lies is essential for parents to address and support their teens effectively. By recognizing the motivations behind teenage lying, parents can navigate these challenges with patience and guidance. Here are some common reasons why teenagers lie and valuable tips for parents:

Avoiding Punishment

One of the primary reasons teenagers lie is to escape punishment. Fear of consequences often drives them to conceal their mistakes or misbehavior. As parents, it is crucial to create a safe and supportive environment where honesty is encouraged and consequences focus on learning and growth rather than punishment. Encourage open communication and assure your teen that you are there to help them navigate challenges.

Impressing Peers

Teenagers often lie to project a certain image to their peers. The pressure to fit in and gain acceptance can lead them to exaggerate achievements or fabricate stories. Help your teen build a strong sense of self-worth based on their true strengths and values. Encourage them to develop genuine friendships based on mutual trust and respect rather than trying to impress others through dishonesty.

Dealing with Low Self-esteem

Low self-esteem can be a significant factor in teenage lying. Teens may lie to cover up their insecurities and present themselves in a more favorable light. Show unconditional love and support to your teen, helping them develop a positive self-image. Encourage them to embrace their strengths and work on areas that need improvement, fostering a healthy sense of self-esteem.


This might be hard for you to read, but sometimes kids lie to their parents out of fear of their parent's reaction. If you have reacted poorly to a child (and who hasn't, let's face it) it could be a reason as to why they're reluctant to tell you the truth, and might be a reason for being dishonest. You might try acknowledging this in a conversation "I know the last time you told me X, I got very upset, and want assure you I'm not going to react the same way". It's not going to fix the situation, but it's a start at repairing trust. 

Need for Validation

Teenagers seek validation and approval from their peers and authority figures during adolescence. Lying can be a means to fit in or appear more accomplished than they actually are. By exaggerating their achievements or experiences, they hope to gain social status and acceptance within their peer groups.

Peer Pressure:

One of the significant reasons behind teenage lying is the pressure to fit in and gain acceptance among their peers. Teenagers may feel compelled to lie about their experiences, possessions, or achievements to enhance their social status or avoid feeling left out.

Influence of Social Media:

With the prevalence of social media platforms, teenagers are constantly exposed to curated versions of other people's lives. This can create a distorted sense of reality, leading teens to feel the pressure to present themselves in a way that aligns with the perfect images they see online. In their quest to maintain a desirable online persona, they may resort to lying about their experiences or altering their appearance.

Desire for Autonomy:

As teenagers strive for independence, they may feel the need to challenge authority figures, including their parents. Lying can be used as a way to assert control over their own lives or to test boundaries and limits set by adults.

Escape from Consequences:

Teenagers may lie as a means of avoiding punishment or negative consequences. They may fear facing judgment or disappointment from their parents or authority figures, leading them to fabricate stories or withhold the truth.

Compulsive lying

Teenagers who compulsively lie persistently and excessively tell falsehoods, going beyond typical adolescent dishonesty. This behavior may be rooted in underlying psychological issues like low self-esteem, a craving for attention, or a motive to manipulate others. Left unaddressed, compulsive lying can strain relationships and cause trust issues.


By understanding these underlying causes of teenage lying, parents can adopt strategies and approaches to address the issue effectively. Open communication, fostering a positive and supportive environment, and setting appropriate boundaries can help establish trust and discourage dishonesty. Encouraging self-esteem-building activities, such as hobbies and extracurricular involvement, can also help mitigate the need for validation through lies.

Remember, it's crucial for parents to approach teenage lying with empathy and understanding, as it is often a developmental phase that can be worked through with patience and support.

What Do Teen Lie About The Most?

Teenagers are known for testing boundaries and pushing limits, and one way they do this is through lying. Here are some common areas in which teenagers tend to tell lies:

  • Grades: Many teenagers feel pressure to excel academically, leading them to lie about their grades to avoid punishment or disappointment from their parents.

  • Homework: Some teenagers may lie about completing their assignments or studying for tests to avoid consequences or gain extra time.

  • Dating: Teenagers may lie about their dating experiences or relationships to impress their peers or gain social status.

  • Social activities: Lying about where they are going or who they are with is common among teenagers who want to maintain their independence or engage in activities without parental knowledge.

  • Alcohol and drugs: Teenagers may lie about their involvement with alcohol or drugs to avoid consequences or judgment from their parents or authorities.

  • Experimentation: They may downplay or deny their involvement in substance use to avoid punishment or maintain a positive image.

  • Social media: Teenagers may lie about their online presence, claiming to have accounts they don't actually have or exaggerating their popularity.

  • Online behavior: Lying about their online interactions or hiding inappropriate activities is prevalent among teenagers seeking privacy or trying to avoid confrontation.

It is important for parents to be aware of these areas in which teenagers commonly lie. By maintaining open and non-judgmental communication with their teens, parents can understand the underlying reasons behind these lies and address them with guidance, support, and appropriate consequences.

Can You Spot When Your Teen is Lying? 

Recognizing signs of lying in teenagers can be challenging, but with careful observation and attention to behavioral cues, parents can become more adept at identifying when their teen may be withholding the truth. Here are some practical tips on how to spot when your teen is lying:

1. Changes in Behavior:

Pay attention to any noticeable shifts in your teen's behavior. Sudden changes in demeanor, such as increased aggression, defensiveness, or withdrawal, could be indicators that something is amiss. Keep an eye out for unexplained mood swings or inconsistencies in their emotional responses.

2. Body Language:

Watch for non-verbal cues that can often reveal a lack of honesty. Notice if your teen avoids eye contact, fidgets excessively, or displays defensive postures, such as crossed arms or crossed legs. These physical indicators may suggest that your teen is withholding the truth.

3. Communication Patterns:

Listen closely to your teen's choice of words and the way they communicate. Look for inconsistencies or contradictions in their stories. Pay attention to excessive use of vague language or an avoidance of providing specific details. Additionally, be aware of any sudden changes in their communication style, such as repeatedly using phrases like "I don't remember" or "I don't know."

4. Trust Your Instincts:

As a parent, your intuition is a valuable tool. If something feels off or doesn't add up, trust your instincts. Parents often have an innate sense when their teen is being dishonest, so don't dismiss those gut feelings.

Remember, it is essential to create an environment of open communication and trust with your teenager. Avoid jumping to conclusions or accusing them without sufficient evidence. Instead, use these observations as starting points for honest conversations and a deeper understanding of their behavior. By maintaining a supportive and non-judgmental approach, you increase the chances of your teen feeling comfortable enough to confide in you truthfully.

With these strategies in mind, parents can develop a keener awareness of their teen's behavior and improve their ability to spot potential lies. By maintaining open lines of communication and building a foundation of trust, parents can foster healthy relationships with their teenagers and navigate the challenges of adolescence together.

why do teens lie to parents?


Teenagers are known for their ability to push boundaries and test the limits set by their parents and authority figures. This often extends to the realm of honesty, where they may resort to various types of lies as a way to navigate their social world and assert their independence. Understanding the different types of lies teenagers tell can help parents navigate this challenging phase and promote open communication.

1. White lies

White lies are usually harmless falsehoods told to avoid hurting someone's feelings or maintaining social harmony. Teenagers may tell white lies to protect a friend's emotions, avoid confrontations, or maintain a favorable image. While common, it's essential for parents to teach their teens the importance of honesty and the potential impact of even seemingly innocent lies.

2. Compulsive lying

Some teenagers engage in compulsive lying, a behavior characterized by persistent and excessive falsehoods that go beyond typical adolescent dishonesty. Compulsive lying may stem from underlying psychological issues, such as low self-esteem, a need for attention, or a desire to manipulate others. This type of lying can strain relationships and lead to trust issues if left unaddressed.

3. Deceptive behavior

Teenagers may engage in deceptive behavior as a way to hide their actions or evade consequences. This can include lying about their whereabouts, involvement in risky behaviors, or academic performance. Deceptive behavior often arises from a fear of punishment or a desire to maintain independence. Parents should establish clear boundaries and consequences while fostering open communication to address and deter deceptive behavior.

Understanding the motivations behind each type of lie is crucial for parents to address dishonesty effectively. By fostering an environment of trust and open communication, parents can encourage their teens to be honest and transparent about their experiences. Emphasizing the importance of honesty and the potential consequences of lies can help teenagers navigate their social world while maintaining integrity and trust in their relationships.

Remember, addressing the types of lies teenagers tell should be approached with empathy and understanding. By promoting open dialogue and providing guidance, parents can help their teenagers develop healthy communication skills and make responsible choices.

What If My Teen Is A Compulsive Liar?

As parents, it can be difficult to determine whether our teenagers' lying habits are within the range of normal behavior or if they indicate a deeper issue such as compulsive lying. Understanding the signs and symptoms of compulsive lying in teenagers can help you differentiate between typical teenage dishonesty and a more serious problem.

Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Lying in Teenagers

1. Consistent Pattern of Lies: Compulsive liars often display a consistent pattern of dishonesty, even when there is no apparent reason to lie. They may lie about trivial matters or create elaborate stories to deceive others.

2. Lack of Remorse: Teens who engage in compulsive lying may show a lack of remorse or guilt for their dishonesty. They may not recognize the impact their lies have on others or understand the consequences of their actions.

3. Inconsistent Stories: Compulsive liars often struggle to keep their lies consistent. You may notice that their stories change or contradict themselves over time. This inconsistency can be a red flag for compulsive lying.

4. Exaggeration and Fabrication: Teens who exhibit compulsive lying tendencies may frequently exaggerate or fabricate details to make their stories more convincing. They may embellish their accomplishments and experiences or even invent fictional events or people.

5. Compulsive Need to Lie: Compulsive liars feel a strong urge to lie, often without a specific reason. They may lie instinctively, reflexively, or even compulsively, as if lying has become a habit they cannot control.

Differentiating Between Compulsive Lying and Normal Teenage Dishonesty

It is important to remember that occasional lying is a normal part of teenage development. Teens often experiment with dishonesty as they test boundaries and assert their independence. However, compulsive lying goes beyond typical teenage behavior and may indicate underlying issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety, or even a larger mental health condition.

If you suspect your teen may be a compulsive liar, it is crucial to approach the situation with sensitivity and understanding. Creating a safe and non-judgmental environment for open dialogue is key. Encourage your teen to express their feelings and emotions without fear of punishment or rejection.

Consider seeking professional support if compulsive lying becomes a persistent issue that affects your teen's daily life, relationships, or well-being. Therapists or counselors with expertise in adolescent behavior can provide guidance, strategies, and intervention techniques to help your teen navigate this challenging behavior.

Remember, the journey to addressing and supporting your teen's compulsive lying begins with understanding and open communication. By fostering a trusting relationship, you can work together to help your teen overcome this challenge and develop healthier coping mechanisms for the future.

why do teenagers lie?

Communication and Honesty Are Keys Points for Parents.

Building trust and maintaining open communication are crucial aspects for parents to foster an environment of honesty and transparency with their teenagers. By setting a positive example and creating a safe space for open dialogue, parents can encourage their teens to be truthful and feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences.

Lead by Example

Parents serve as role models for their children, and teenagers are no exception. When parents exhibit honesty and authenticity in their own actions and communication, it sets the foundation for their teens to follow suit. Being open about mistakes, admitting when we don't have all the answers, and showing vulnerability can demonstrate the value of honesty and authenticity.

Foster a Safe and Non-Judgmental Space

Creating an environment of trust and non-judgment is essential for teenagers to feel comfortable expressing themselves truthfully. By actively listening without interrupting, offering empathy, and validating their feelings, parents can build strong lines of communication. It is important to resist the temptation to react with anger or punishment when confronted with uncomfortable truths, as this can deter teenagers from being honest in the future.

Encourage Open Dialogue

Engaging in regular, meaningful conversations with teenagers can strengthen the parent-child relationship and encourage honesty. It's essential to ask open-ended questions that encourage reflection and self-expression. By actively listening and validating their perspectives, parents can promote communication that is free from fear of judgment.

Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations

Establishing clear boundaries and expectations is crucial for teenagers to understand the importance of honesty. Clearly communicate the consequences that may arise from dishonesty, while also highlighting the benefits of honesty, such as trust-building and open communication.

Seek Professional Help if Needed

If parents are struggling to establish open communication and address issues of dishonesty, seeking professional help can be beneficial. Therapists and counselors specialize in supporting families and can provide guidance tailored to the specific needs of teenagers struggling with honesty.

Honesty and communication are vital components of a healthy parent-teen relationship. By modeling honesty, fostering a safe and non-judgmental environment, encouraging open dialogue, setting clear boundaries, and seeking professional help if needed, parents can create an environment that promotes honesty, trust, and strong communication skills in their teenagers.

What Do I Need To Know About Teens That Lie Compulsively?

Understanding compulsive lying in teenagers is crucial for parents seeking to address and support their teens effectively, and there's some good news in the form of research that shows that teens tend to age out of lying to their parents during college years.

Causes and Symptoms of Compulsive Lying

Compulsive lying in teenagers can stem from various underlying factors. One potential cause is low self-esteem, as teens may feel the need to fabricate stories or achievements to gain validation and acceptance from others. Additionally, teenagers dealing with mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder may exhibit compulsive lying as a symptom.

Identifying compulsive lying in teenagers can be challenging but crucial. Some common signs include frequent lying, inconsistent stories, and a lack of remorse for their dishonesty. It's important to recognize that compulsive lying is not a phase or a bad habit that will naturally fade away. Instead, it often indicates a deeper issue that requires attention and support.

Impact on Mental Health

Compulsive lying can have a significant impact on a teenager's mental health. The constant need to fabricate and maintain false narratives can lead to increased anxiety, stress, and difficulty in developing genuine relationships. It can also contribute to a downward trajectory in a teen's emotional well-being, exacerbating existing mental health conditions or creating new challenges.

Seeking Support and Intervention

Recognizing and addressing compulsive lying in teenagers is a collaborative effort. As parents, it is essential to approach the issue with empathy, open communication, and professional support. Engaging in dialogue and expressing concerns without judgment can create an environment where a teenager feels safe to open up.

To curb compulsive lying, it may be necessary to seek professional intervention. Counseling or therapy sessions can help teenagers explore the deeper reasons behind their lying behavior and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Additionally, involving other trusted individuals, such as school counselors or mental health professionals, can provide a comprehensive approach to support a teenager's journey.

Remember, compulsive lying in teenagers is often a symptom of a larger mental health issue or underlying self-esteem issues. By creating a healthy parent-teen relationship built on trust, understanding, and open dialogue, parents can positively impact their teenager's well-being. Seeking appropriate support, is essential in navigating this challenging territory and helping teenagers develop healthier patterns of communication and honesty.

About The Author: Oliver Drakeford, LMFT, CGP

Oliver Drakeford is an experienced therapist based in West Hollywood, CA, offering compassionate and effective therapy services to individuals, couples, and families. With nearly a decade of experience as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Oliver prioritizes the importance of healthy and balanced relationships, helping clients work through issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, family dynamics, and relationships.

Oliver received his training at the prestigious Maple Counseling Center in Beverly Hills and holds a certification from the Los Angeles Institute and Association for Psychoanalytic Studies (LAISPS). He continually enhances his approach by incorporating contemporary influences, including 'Mentalization-Based Training' and 'Modern Group Analysis' training.

Oliver provides talk therapy and in-person sessions at his office on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. Additionally, he offers online therapy and virtual mental health care for individuals located in California. His goal as a therapist is to create a safe space to assist people in making positive changes in their lives, whether it involves addressing past trauma or improving relationships.

Speaking & Teaching Engagements

Oliver has been involved in various speaking and teaching engagements, including training sessions on family systems, modern psychoanalytic theory, and group therapy methods. He has spoken at conferences such as the American Group Psychotherapy Association Annual Conference and Models Of Pride.

Employment and Experience

Oliver's professional experience includes roles at Pacific Teen Treatment Center, Paradigm Treatment Center, The Maple Counseling Center, Beverly Hills High School, Moreno High Continuation School, and Los Angeles LGBT Center. He has served as a clinical director, lead group and family therapist, facilitator, and social group facilitator, among other roles.

Training & Certifications

Oliver has received certifications from organizations such as The Center For Group Studies (CGS), Los Angeles Institute and Association of Psychoanalytic Studies (LAISPS), Anna Freud National Center for Families and Children, and Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles.


Oliver holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and a BSc in International Business Studies from Manchester Metropolitan University.


Oliver has been recognized for his contributions to the field of psychotherapy, including receiving the Donald T Brown Memorial Scholarship for Group Psychotherapy from The Group Foundation for Advancing Mental Health.

Contact Information

- Address: 8702 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA, 90069

Citations and LInks in this Article

Darling, N., Cumsille, P., Caldwell, L.L. et al. Predictors of Adolescents’ Disclosure to Parents and Perceived Parental Knowledge: Between- and Within-Person Differences. J Youth Adolescence 35, 659–670 (2006).

Evans AD, Lee K. Verbal deception from late childhood to middle adolescence and its relation to executive functioning skills. Dev Psychol. 2011 Jul;47(4):1108-16. doi: 10.1037/a0023425. PMID: 21553958; PMCID: PMC3474321.

Jensen, L.A., Arnett, J.J., Feldman, S.S. et al. The Right to Do Wrong: Lying to Parents Among Adolescents and Emerging Adults. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 33, 101–112 (2004).

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