Lying chips away at character

You have known your best friend for four years. How important is it that she is honest with you?

When asked what you want to see in a happy relationship, do you include honesty as one of the characteristics? Would you like your parents to be honest with you, even about difficult things?

When you are certain that someone is honest with you, what happens? You probably feel relaxed, more at ease, and are more likely to be yourself.

Honesty builds strong character. An honest person is someone who is trustworthy and respected by others. For example, a middle school teacher who has a reputation for being an honest person is respected and others tend to come to him for advice. When he makes a suggestion or gives feedback, people truly listen and take what he says seriously.

On the other hand, lying chips away at your character. Unfortunately, we hear about it on the news everyday: people caught in their lies, from politicians to movie actors to company CEOs.

Even though it seems to be everywhere, lying is still an unacceptable behavior. It is misleading and wrong. Almost always, it has negative consequences.

Deceit can range from “little white lies,” such as telling your friend you like her new car, to serious lies that may involve illegal activities, such as witnessing your friend shoplifting and denying being there or having any knowledge of it.

What makes people lie? According to Bernice Lerner, director of the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University, the main reason is self-protection.

“People lie because they want to protect themselves,” she says, “or to keep information from others that they think might have a bad effect.”

For young people, an additional reason is fear of retribution. Lying can be attractive for adolescents because it is one way of enhancing their personalities, defining themselves or establishing their identity, which is a prominent aspect of this developmental stage. Some do it to discover who they are.

In addition, some teenagers feel that lying is the easiest way to deal with the demands of parents, teachers and friends. These children are usually not trying to be bad or malicious, but the repetitive pattern of lying becomes a bad habit. In order to avoid further questioning, you may lie to your dad by saying that you have finished studying for your test.

Some adolescents discover that lying may be considered acceptable in certain situations such as not telling a boyfriend or girlfriend the real reasons for breaking up because they don’t want to hurt their feelings. Others may frequently use lying to cover up a serious problem.

Even the most honest of teens may feel the urge to tell a benign lie. However, an article from the MassGeneral Hospital for Children suggests that if a teen finds that he or she is repeatedly lying, they may want to speak with a responsible adult. Some teens who have a relatively good relationship with their parents can discuss these concerns with them. If not, these teens might ask for some time with the school counselor or social worker.

Teens who have a problem with lying should try to nip it in the bud before it becomes commonplace. Try reaching out to an appropriate adult to receive the assistance you require.

For parents and guardians, the following are tips on how to respond effectively to your teenager lying:

• Set clear expectations and strive to meet them yourself.

• Explain to teens that they will be respected more if they tell the truth.

• Talk to them about the importance of honesty at home and in the community.

• Give examples of why honesty is important.

• Avoid browbeating and punishing when broaching the subject of dishonesty. Make sure the consequence is fair and not too extreme. Remember, the primary goal is to encourage them to tell the truth.

• Praise them for telling the truth when they do.

• If it appears that a child has a serious problem with lying, seek professional help.

• Tram Vuong Meadows is the Therapeutic Foster Home Program Therapist for Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i. She can be reached at tmeadows@haleopio.org, or Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i Inc., 2959 Umi St., Lihu’e, HI 96766


Questions?

A support group of adults in our Kaua‘i community have “stepped into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families! Please e-mail your questions and concerns facing our youth and families today to Mary Navarro, executive director of Hale ‘Opio, at mnavarro@haleopio.org.

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