Youth Culture Window

Modern Day Pinocchio’s

No dad, I didn’t sneak into the R-rated movie last weekend. Yes mom, I came straight home after school. And no, I’ve never ridden in the car with a drunk driver.

These are just a few of the things that 98% of teenagers lie to their parents about.

The Kids Might Lie But The Numbers Don’t
A recent study by Penn State reports that 98% of teenagers lie to their parents about various points of their lives. That’s bad news. But the study also found that 98% of the same exact students believe lying is morally wrong. That’s good news, right?

So, why do they lie…so much?

Of the 36 different topics teenagers were asked questions about, they admitted fudging on 12 of them. “How I spent my money,” plus those mentioned above were just a few of the areas where they opted for an alternative to the truth.

The numbers paint a dark picture of teens’ morality today. So, what do they have to say for themselves?

“It’s like human nature. You can’t really stop yourself from lying sometimes.” 

    • (Annie, 12)

“Like, I think if you don’t want to tell your parents, then that’s really none of their business.” 

    (Caroline, 17)

O What Tangled Webs We Weave….
An earlier study by the University of Arizona asked teenagers about the “nature” of the lies they told. They grouped the findings into 4 distinct categories:

  1. Pro-social lie: this is a lie that is told to protect someone or to help others.
  2. Self-enhancement lie: this kind of lie is told to stave off embarrassment or punishment.
  3. Selfish lie: these lies are told at the expense of others to protect one’s self.
  4. Anti-social lie: these lies are intentionally told to hurt others.

This report also found that as kids got older, the frequency with which they lie increases. Amongst their peers, “pro-social” lies were the most prevalent. At home with mom and dad, “self-enhancement” and “selfish” lies were those most often pulled from the arsenal of deceit. It seems that parents get the worst of the worst when it comes to teens’ dishonesty.

Speaking of mom and dad…

Where’d You Learn To Lie Like That?
Remember standing in line at the “kids-12-and-under-eat-free” restaurants and coaching them about what to say if the clerk asked how old they were? Remember the tooth fairy? Santa Claus? The experts say these “white lies” have taken their toll on kids’ view of the truth, especially when there are consequences on the line.

Maybe our kids were listening more often than we thought….

Some of the most common lies among adults include, “I’m fine,” “The check’s in the mail,” and “Of course those pants don’t make your butt look big, honey.” Yet another researcher, Robert Feldman of The University of Massachusetts, says, “People almost lie reflexively. They don’t think about it as part of their normal social discourse.” Sadly, the studies show that lying is way too “normal.” Feldman ties lying directly to self-esteem; when self-esteem is down, lying goes up.

Today, lying seems to go all the way from our house, to the White House. Keep in mind, this generation was still in grade school when they heard the now (in)famous line, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman….” All of these studies seem to share one overarching conclusion: from parents to presidents to teens, and everyone in between, all have a propensity for lying.

Regaining The Truth
It’s more than a little disheartening to hear that 98% of teens admit to lying. Perhaps even sadder, are the poor reasons they give for “having” to do it. But, I think we should capitalize on the fact that 98% of them also know it’s wrong to lie. With that in mind…


  • Model honesty in your life. Nothing speaks louder to kids today than “example.” In Jonathan’s parenting seminar he recently said, “You can teach what you know, but you can only reproduce who you are.” As youth workers we can’t preach about the “sins of lying” at the weekly small groups, and then get caught in a fib about whether or not we really did fill the church vans back up after the weekend retreat. Nothing speaks louder than example; nothing undermines more than hypocrisy.
  • Teach the truth on truth. Remind your students that truth is not just a concept; truth is also a Person. “I am the way, the truth, and the life….” Truth is never relative. We live in a “gray” world, but truth has always been (and always will be) “black and white.” has a couple of great resources on the subject. (Like this one or this one.)
  • Emphasize the rewards of telling the truth. Provide real life, relevant examples of this for your students. Use lessons from your life to drive home the point. Perhaps this teaching is most important when there are actually consequences for being honest! (Psalm 15:1-4, the person “who keeps his oath even when it hurts.”). People who “fess up” are respected by this young generation, and even more so when the truth is chosen in spite of guaranteed punishment.

Unlike Pinocchio, it’s not always easy to tell when teens are lying. We’ve got to keep working hard to ensure that they recognize truth and speak it to everyone. The truth is worth it our efforts.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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