But as with all rules – screen time, bedtime, “when am I old enough to date?” time – kids are going to try to push boundaries, bend the rules, and get around them.
Most kids tell the same story: They want parents to trust them with technology. But at the same time, most of them also admit they sneak around to use it. Under the covers, at school, and other times when our backs are turned…
For kids, our trust is important. They want their parents and other adults to respect them. They want to be seen as independent in our eyes.
And this might be part of the reason that they’re lying about sneaking around – why they secretively send texts after bedtime or snap their friends back at school. Usually, they’re not lying to avoid punishment. They just don’t want to be judged in a negative way. They don’t want to look bad in front of us. It’s as simple as that. And we can all relate to that feeling.
Sneaking screen time happens all over, in almost every house, by almost every kid. They do it even though they know they’re undermining our trust, that thing they want the most.
But it’s usually not blatant lying. Kids aren’t completely making stuff up. They’re just withholding information or omitting things… not giving us the full truth. Which is a totally human thing to do. As adults, we all lie a little every day in different ways. We twist things or gloss over them or sugarcoat them to avoid hurting people’s feelings. Our kids see this and absorb it. That’s why role modeling matters, folks! If our kids see us being up front and honest about things, they’ll recognize that too.
Did you know that humans actually begin sharpening our lying skills at around age three? This slows down by age seven, but once we hit those preteen and teenage years, we start seeking new sensations and feeling urges and desiring more autonomy and independence. And that’s when kids start holding back information and occasionally lying.
Look, we all want to raise honest kids. Most parents say they do anyway – it’s one of the top traits we list when discussing characteristics we’d like to see in our children.
Here are a few things that YOU can do – all backed by science and research – to help them be more honest.
- Stop telling white lies yourself. They’re always watching you and learning.
- Praise them when they’re honest rather than punishing them when they confess. They’ll remember your reaction to the truth and that makes them more likely to open up in the future.
- Set rules. (You knew this one was coming!) Remember my Digital Media Agreement and the reasons you need it? When there are clear and fair rules, kids are less likely to overstep boundaries and lie about it.
- Be kind and understanding when you talk about screen time. Kids tell the truth more often to parents who are emotionally warm.
- Take the time to set rules and explain them. Be open to hearing your kids’ arguments against certain rules and make adjustments when merited.
Here’s an example situation: If you find your kid sneaking his or her smartphone or tablet after bedtime, don’t get angry or upset. Instead, go over why you have a “no screens at night” rule. Explain why it’s bad for their sleeping habits, why sleep is so important, or how the blue light hurts their circadian rhythms and developing brains.
Remember, kids also want to be understood. Show them that you’re listening when you make these rules – ahem, your Digital Media Agreement – and offer to negotiate with them when they make a valid point. It’s all about the give and take. Maybe they can have their phone until 9 PM, so long as it stays out of the bedroom after dark?
That’s why getting comfortable with social media matters too. Let them you understand its magnetic pull, but that you care more about their wellbeing. With enough discussion and openness, your child will have a grasp on the reasons behind the rules and feel less of a need to lie to get around them.
Okay, maybe they won’t be Mr. George “I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down your cherry tree” Washington, but hey, close enough!
Laurie Wolk is an Author, Educator & Motivational Speaker focusing on parenting adolescents and social media. A “go to” girl since childhood and a cheerleader at heart, her passion is helping parents and young girls learn how to communicate and connect with themselves, each other and the outside world.
She works directly with companies, schools, organizations and individuals on building confidence, leadership and digital citizenship skills. Her goal: teaching girls how to put down their digital devices and develop “in real life” communication and relationship skills.
A graduate of Emory University, Laurie received her BA in Psychology and is the Author of the book Girls Just Want to Have Likes: How to Raise Confident Girls in the Face of Social Media Madness. She is the Editor of The Spark Report, a weekly report that helps parents of tweens/teens spark meaningful conversations with their children. Laurie received advanced certification at the Martha Beck and Girls Leadership Institutes and is on the Board of the Westchester Children’s Museum and at Girls Leadership.
An engaged and hands-on mother of three + dog, Laurie understands adolescents and connects with them both as a guide and a friend, teaching them important social and emotional skills that will serve them for a lifetime. She has been called a “modern mentor” by clients and forms natural connections early on with both parent and child.