You catch your teen in a lie and think:

1. They are destined to be a psychopath. OMG, how did this happen?
2. What a dumb lie! If they were going to fib, why not be craftier about it?
3. Where did they get this behavior from? You’ve tried so hard to be a good role model and now you’ve failed. It must be some recessive gene your spouse has.

Fact is, when you do catch your child, be they a youngster or a young adult, in a big, fat, flat-out lie, confronting them is a must. But what about a little white lie, or several of them? What about lame lies that almost seem understandable in these hectic techno-times when we are all overextending ourselves with appointments and to-do’s?

The top lame lies have remained pretty consistent over the years: “I forgot,” “I got caught in traffic,” “I had to work late,” or the most often heard these days, “I’m too tired/I don’t feel well.” The bottom line in all of them is, “I don’t want to own up because I don’t want to get static from you.” Yup, the doggone truth is: “I promised, but have changed my mind, and I don’t know how to admit it.” (Then add to this a bit—or a lot—of guilt and regret.)

The temptation to answer “maybe” to the evite/invite is what is causing much of the ruckus. If you respond “maybe” to the event/dinner/playdate, you get the momentary feeling of freedom. Unfortunately, it then necessitates an explanation, a why, down the line. And that is where you get stuck and reach out for that lie. And often the lie (“We won’t be in town, thanks for the invite!”) grows because you have to remember that you weren’t supposed to be in town that weekend. And so on.

Do both sexes dole out these lame lies? Yes, but for very different reasons. Women use them in order not to hurt feelings and in an effort to keep lines of friendship open—what researchers refer to as “pro-social lies” told to maintain good relations with others. Men often use them in an attempt not to “get in trouble” (usually with women). Often telling the truth is, simply, too hard: “I would rather sleep,” “your parties are boring,” or “you aren’t as important to me as you think you are.” Harsh words; who can say them? Not I.

That being said, telling the truth, especially when you are modeling for your kids, is very important. It’s better that they observe someone who sets good limits and is tactful when telling the truth than watch (and learn how) adults squirm around difficult social and family situations by telling white lies, lying by omission, or just defaulting to a lame lie.

Some pointers for both moms and dads:

  1. Talk to your child about how to break a date or not to hurt someone’s feelings in a way that will teach them how to become a graceful adult.
  2. Talk to them about how choosing to be truthful in situations when it might be easier to tell a lame lie will make them more respected by their peers.
  3. And finally, talk to them about something we all need help with: time management and setting boundaries. If they learn to manage their time efficiently and to set firm boundaries early in life, they’ll find that they won’t have to use lame lies later.