Your teen lies to you too. But it’s not in that nefarious, disrespectful way.
I meet with the teens from my church (as well as any graduated teens who still want to meet with me!) for one-on-one times as often as possible. During these times together I always ask probing questions. There is not much small talk. I’m taking advantage of these moments to find out what is really going on inside of their heads.
This is why I know they lie to me. They answer my probing questions more often with what I want to hear.
Not because they want to please me but because this is who they want to be.
I am asking them questions so they can put words onto the why of their decisions. Or what this decision may lead to in two years. Or is this what they really meant with that decision?
Because of adolescent development, and more specifically brain growth, these are all new experiences and new thoughts. This is why the laws of the land protect teens. My questions and time with my teens are designed to help them give words to thoughts they may be having deep inside their heads or thoughts they may have never had at all. I’m intentionally providing them a safe space with me to ask those questions and help them have words for what is happening inside of them as they are growing up.
I also effuse exuberant praise when I see the good decisions. I intentionally go over the top because I want the teens to know very clearly that those questions, those thoughts, those decisions are in the right direction.
I also realize that teens have one life at church with me and an entirely different life at school and maybe a different life with you, parent. This is normal adolescent development. This hasn’t changed in 40 years of youth ministry.
This is why I have believed for a long time and have put into practice the two things in my control that will help teens bring their divided lives together: my nosy conversations (which no one says no to) and intergenerational relationships with the many beautiful people in my church.
I know teens lie to me. It is a part of faith formation.
Your beloved lies to you too. Because they do want your approval but are also filled with self-doubts. Heck, even their bodies are uncertain and are failing them in adolescence. They desire affirmation from you–as they don’t have the words to tell you what is really going on. Because they know about their fake life and don’t want it but don’t know what else to do. Because they are afraid of seeing your face fall in disappointment.
One teen shared with me:
I feel as if I need to be perfect for my Dad. I feel like I need to be “perfect” because he came to this country for me and has given me everything and I sometimes take him for granted. He has sacrificed so much for me and I let him down at times. When I let him down, I apologize and feel so guilty. I begin to cry to myself and just think of how much I’m a “let down.“ –Cathy, age 17
Do you see Cathy in your teen?
Or this 12-year old who asked to be anonymous:
I feel like I need to be perfect for everybody in all I do and that puts soooooooooooooooooooo much pressure on me. I’m sooooo worried about what others think about me. I cried when I got a 98% on a test. I’m always working towards perfection. I’m also really depressed all the time. Even when I’m supposed to be having fun.
Age 12. Struggling to put words to the crazy talk that is deep inside of her.
Parent, I know your heart just broke. I know your insecurity to parent your teen just ratcheted up too many levels. I know you feel like you will fail your teen—or already have. Pause for a moment. Recognize the fear that is involved. Don’t let fear lead.
Like I have grown to understand, I realize that teens lie to me. I realize that it is a part of their faith formation. I intentionally put teens into situations where they may lie to me so I can help them process those deep down thoughts they are afraid to think of.
Remember always, you are a great safety net your teen has to fall into. You will always be their first safety net. Parent, you can also recognize your teen’s lies and help them grow through it so shame does not take root. This is holy tension for you—defined as the discomfort of being stuck in between but knowing that if you can make a brave vulnerable decision something holy is going to happen.
Something holy is going to happen. I promise.