Lying to stay out of trouble, to not worry their parents or to protect a friend – every boy has the ability and does, to varying degrees, lie about parts of his life to his mum and dad.
And parents are not oblivious to this – given boys start to gain the understanding they can make up lies from about age three, by the time they hit early teenage years and beyond they can be very skilled at skewing the truth to hide the reality from loved ones.
Some parents can struggle with understanding why their son may want to or feel like he needs to lie to his parents who only want the best for him.
Yet, like in relation to many other areas of his life – his view of the right thing to do and his parents view do not always match up.
Generally, by age eight – with a well-developed vocabulary and keen understanding of how others think – boys can lie “successfully” i.e. without getting caught. And as they continue to learn the nuances of body language, story-telling and quicker response times, they are able to manipulate the truth, as they need, as they get older.
So why do boys lie?
There are many reasons a boy may lie to his parents. Masterminds and Wingmen author and researcher Rosalind Wiseman lists five main reasons behind some untruths;
Boys may not necessarily believe they are lying when they view their “future self” doing an activity they have been asked to complete. For example, if a boy is asked to clean his room and tells his mother he has done it (but really hasn’t lifted any part of his floordrobe off the carpet) he may still believe he is telling the truth to his mum because he has every intention of cleaning it up in the future (whether that is in the next half hour, day, or week).
- Managing Parental Interference
Students Wiseman studied during her research for her book told her it was easier to continue a small lie and get in trouble once when caught in the lie instead of telling the truth constantly and getting in trouble each time. For instance one of the students told Wiseman; “I’d rather get yelled at one time instead of everyday. If I tell them the truth, then I’m grounded every weekend instead of just getting mad at the end of one test.” Wiseman said some boys believe their parents overreact to problems and feel they can work out their problems themselves without their parents’ help.
Boys can construct lies to protect themselves or someone else. Wiseman said boys can become terrified of people “finding out about their true self”, including their own parents, and will hide it/make up stories to protect themselves from any ridicule they fear from the truth being told.
- Freedom and Independence
Teenage boys can build lies under the belief they can judge danger and risk more accurately than their parents – who they may not think went through any kind of similar situations in their childhood. Unfortunately, the teenage brain does not have the capacity to comprehend certain risks and dangers – the area of the brain which handles planning and impulse control doesn’t fully mature until about the age of 25 – and this can lead to boys navigating risky situations without parental knowledge which can have disastrous consequences.
- Cover up
Following on from number four, the cover up lie stems from situations boys do not want their parents finding out about for whatever reason. Boys can group together to come up with this kind of lie and will back each other when asked for the truth. Cover up lies can lead to friendships being tested and peer pressure playing heavily on boys as they try to help each other rather than tell parents the real story.
What can parents do?
Parenting coach Sue Atkins offers some advice to parents;
- Explain the impact of his lie – how finding out he has lied has impacted your feelings i.e. “when you… I feel… because”
- Explain the negatives associated with lying – distrust, dishonour etc.
- Make it his responsibility to regain trust in the relationship – what needs to happen for us to rebuild trust?
- Have a frank discussion about lying – why it happened? Why they felt they needed to lie? What can you do to help the relationship be more honest – i.e. don’t “nag” about homework or cleaning bedrooms (the small things)
- Explain how small lies can quickly build into bigger and bigger ones – all relationships need to operate on trust and honesty, at home, with friends and later work colleagues – lying portrays dishonesty.
- Explain that growing up is all about learning and making mistakes is part of that journey – but healthy relationships are built on trust so we need to build that again.