Dishonesty may seem like a minor issue in comparison to other problems like drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and eating disorders, but it is a vice that parents should never ignore. Dishonesty is rooted in an attitude of disrespect; disrespect for others, disrespect for authority, disrespect for other people's things, disrespect for your family's values, and disrespect for oneself. If you ignore dishonest actions by your teen today, you may have to deal with bigger problems later. It won't usually go away with the mere passage of time. It will reappear at significant stress points later in your child's life—when they go off to college, get a job, or get married. Getting away with lying, cheating or theft today can lead to a lifetime of dishonesty, and that can land them in real trouble or heartache in the future.

It reminds me of the story some parents recently told me of their immature 18-year-old who had to learn this lesson the hard way. While skateboarding, he and some friends spotted an abandoned, broken-down farm house nearby and decided to go exploring. The boys didn't know that the old house with no front door had recently been vandalized, nor that the neighbors were on the lookout. Taking some souvenirs of junk they found in the vacant house -- things worth no more than a few dollars -- they were putting them in the boy's vehicle when the Sheriff arrived. Long story short, the boy was arrested and charged with felony burglary of a building. Though given probation for his first offense, he learned how difficult it is to survive thereafter with a felony arrest record. No one would hire him for years to come, regardless of the less than sinister circumstances of the "burglary."  

I've always said, "Life is hard, and harder if you're stupid." Mistakes can cause a heap of trouble for both a teen and his parents, and many of those mistakes begin with some form of dishonesty or disrespect for normal boundaries. Since nothing is more central to a person's character than honesty, it is important to address dishonesty any time you discover it in your teen. Seek, search, and pry into areas you don't normally think about in order to uncover and understand the root of it. Do all you can to ensure your teen is truthful in even the smallest things. I tell kids, "If you lie, I will pry. If you hide something, I will seek the truth. If you steal, I'll make sure you suffer the legal and social consequences before your lying results in a life-long problem."

If you're a parent who sees dishonesty creeping into your teen's talk, texts or website; or if you learn they have cheated or stolen something, today is the day to expose and deal with it. Here are the steps I recommend taking:

1. Briefly describe the dishonest behavior.

2. Tell them how you feel about it and how it is counter to your values.

3. Affirm that you know they can do better.

4. Make them right the wrong, including confessing to whomever was wronged from the dishonesty, cheating or theft.

5. Enforce appropriate consequences and make sure they know that you will be on the lookout for any form of dishonesty in the future.

Parents need to "keep a vigilant eye" if they want to turn the rising tide of dishonesty. Call it an "alert mom or dad," or an "involved parent," if you will.  Let your teen know that it is your job as a parent to keep your eyes wide open for dishonest behavior, not so you can "catch them doing wrong," but so that you can keep them from falling into that trap.

And by the way, be sure to model honesty yourself, and make it a habit to be truthful.  If you think you've hidden dishonesty from them in the past, think again. Teens can read their parents like a book. They don't miss a thing and they detest hypocrisy. So, if you know you've been dishonest in front of your teen, ask their forgiveness, and give yourself some consequences for the bad behavior, so your teen knows how important it is to be honest. Teens need some good role models in regard to honesty.  If not you, then who?

December 11, 2009

 


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential program for struggling adolescents located in East Texas. Learn more at www.heartlightministries.org or call 903-668-2173. Mark's blog can be read at www.markgregston.com or he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/markgregston. His radio programs can be heard at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org.