Adolescence is a period marked by significant changes, including an increased desire for independence and autonomy. As teenagers navigate this phase, it is not uncommon for them to hide information from their parents or outright lie. But what prompts them to lie or share the truth voluntarily? Do they plan their lies in advance? And do they employ consistent strategies every time they engage in activities that their parents disapprove of?
Lying is not exclusive to adolescents; it is a behavior common among people of all ages. Judith Smetana, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester, explains that most individuals lie multiple times a day. While social lies like compliments or polite excuses are prevalent among adults, teenagers often lie about routine activities, such as where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Adolescence, aimed to explore the narratives of 131 teenagers and college students regarding instances when they engaged in activities disapproved of or forbidden by their parents. The participants were asked to recount three scenarios: a time when they disclosed part or all of the activity, concealed the activity, or lied about it.
The researchers analyzed the narratives based on voluntariness, timing, consistency, and lessons learned. A particularly interesting finding was that disclosure is not always voluntary, as previously assumed. In fact, only 40% of the study participants disclosed information voluntarily. Secrecy tends to increase during adolescence as teenagers strive for autonomy.
The study revealed that teenagers primarily disclose information voluntarily (40%) or strategically (47%) when they foresee a need for assistance or in anticipation of their parents finding out. The assumption that disclosure is always voluntary was challenged, with the research indicating a lower rate of voluntary disclosure than previously presumed.
Involuntary truth-telling occurred less frequently (13%) and was often a result of accidental revelations by friends or parental pressure. The timing of the disclosure played a crucial role, with teenagers more likely to lie (53%) before engaging in disapproved activities. However, sharing the truth or disclosing the information occurred more frequently after the event (35%) or after an extended period of lying (8%) or later without specifying the exact timeline (23%).
The study also highlighted the versatility of teenagers’ approaches, demonstrating that they often employ multiple strategies around the same event. Disclosure may not be their initial response; some may attempt to hide the information entirely before deciding to reveal it. Smetana suggests that teenage behavior regarding disclosure is often a gray area, rather than a clear black or white distinction.
The narratives also provided insights into the lessons learned from experiences of disclosure and lying. Positive changes were associated with telling the truth voluntarily, such as greater psychological growth, improved self-understanding, increased self-efficacy, and stronger connections with others and parents. In contrast, retelling experiences of lying led to negative conclusions, including more negative self-perceptions, reduced clarity about oneself, negative emotions, and poorer self-image.
The nature of the narratives differed depending on whether the participants were discussing disclosure, concealment, or lying. The teenagers demonstrated a deeper psychological understanding of themselves and found more meaning in disclosure compared to concealment or lying. Conversely, experiences of lying led to more negative reflections and less clarity about oneself.
Parental monitoring, previously believed to prevent teenagers from engaging in risky behavior, does not necessarily improve parents’ knowledge of their children’s lives, according to Smetana. The key lies in nurturing warm, trusting relationships before adolescence and maintaining open lines of communication. While teenagers do have the right to keep certain matters private, Smetana emphasizes the importance of trust and good communication between parents and their children. Building a strong parent-child relationship fosters disclosure and helps strike a balance between respecting the teenager’s autonomy and ensuring their safety.
Ultimately, understanding teenage behavior concerning disclosure and lying is crucial for parents seeking to navigate this challenging phase with their children. By creating an environment of trust and open communication, parents can build strong relationships with their teenagers and promote positive psychological growth.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it