How to Handle a Liar

My son lies to us all of the time. He was being really hard on President Clinton, saying he should resign. I looked at my husband and said: "He really feels strongly about lying. Maybe we should be harder on him when he lies." Well, he still lies, but it now costs him $5 each time he does. It seems to be working. He is tired of being broke all of the time. My son is 10, and we also never lie to him. Why does he lie?

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Chronic liar is a label that fits many children between the ages of 10 and 15. I can almost hear your WHEW! No, your son is not the only middler who could fill in for Pinocchio at his longest-nose best! Lying is a reflex of this age group, because at this time middlers are insecure, afraid of messing up and prone to look at parents as the enemy. National Middle School Association expert Judith Baenen states: "Middle school children deny almost everything, big or small. This is not the fantasy tale telling of childhood, nor is it the look-you-straight-in-the-eye lying that may come later. This is spontaneous and can regard anything that seems to put them in a bad light."

Middlers covet privacy, and many fib to protect their rights to it. In a YM/Family Circle magazine survey, 69 percent of young adolescent girls admitted they lied about where they were going. While a parent should never excuse lying, it helps to understand why middlers seem so dishonest. Since both conscience and the need for privacy emerge during these years, it is prime time for parents to put the values of honesty and integrity center stage. Discuss the importance of honesty in relationships. Movies like Liar, Liar and Romy and Michele's High School Reunion can start the conversation. Point out the consequences of lying. (Recent headlines are filled with President Clinton's lessons.) Model honesty yourself by watching for those little white lies, because middlers love to catch parents in a hypocritical moment. Reward honesty, even if you also punish your child for lying. Integrity is a skill that requires building, and now is the time to lay the foundation.

-- Margaret Sagarese, coauthor of The Roller-Coaster Years and Parenting 911

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