My wife and I have been Young Leaders for almost 25 years. First we were volunteers, then we spent almost a decade on Young Life staff, and now we are volunteers again. We've spent countless hours building relationships with young people, over coffee, in bible studies, playing games, coaching, mentoring, sharing in cabin times, and more, and if there's one truth I've learned in those 25 years, it's that all kids lie. They have to! They have to lie if they want to get their way...and here's where I think this is a good thing. One of the reasons they are lying to get their way is because you (parents, youth leader, teacher, etc...), are setting healthy boundaries that will help them learn and grow. So, first of all...way to go! I'm not celebrating lying...I'm celebrating that you care for kids enough to set boundaries. Keep setting boundaries, keep loving well, keep helping them understand that "no" is not a bad thing, and keep helping kids understand that the truth is always best, even if the consequences are difficult. Kids lie for other reasons too (Pride, Fear, etc..) but for this blog post, I want to focus on the side of lying that crushes growth through hardship.
It's harder when it's your kids
I thought that my 25 years of building relationships with young people would give me the necessary tools to help my own kids not lie...I was wrong. My kids lie too. Now, yes...I agree with you, there are varying degrees of kids lying to be sure; for some kids it's stealing and lying when they get caught, not brushing their teeth when they said they did, changing answers on a corrected test, or saying they are somewhere when they aren't. For some it's deleting text messages they've sent or received, and for others it's telling you they went to Sunday School, but really skipped out to get donuts in the fellowship hall while nobody was looking. But, none-the-less, kids lie. Yes, a "partial truth" is still a lie; "Well, I didn't lie...I just didn't tell you the full truth." Yep, that's a lie! And...truth be told, some kids just flat out lie to your face.
So, why is it important to admit that all kids lie?
Because so many adults have become rescuers, which has led to enabling, which has led to entitlement, which has led to more lying...and we wonder why our kids aren't motivated to do anything else but play Fortnite or post stuff on Instagram.
All of us have family members, or friends who work in the public schools...keep talking to them as you'll hear countless stories of parents rescuing their kids with well intention-ed but unhelpful phrases like; "My child wouldn't do that!", "If my son says he didn't do it, then he didn't do it.", "Do you have video proof that she did it?", "Why are YOU failing MY child.", or talk to a coach who has to navigate the difficulty of a parent's expectations for their kid to get more playing time.
Another reasons kids lie, is because they know they can...when something goes wrong, their helicopter parent will come swooping in and instead of asking questions to get a better picture of the full truth, will start launching into a series of the aforementioned definitive statements that leaves zero room for equipping the student to navigate conflict, and instead just reinforces the notion that it's okay to lie (or not tell the full truth, or just their version of the truth) it's the easiest way to get the result you want.
Kids don't need more buddies...they need leaders in their life who love them, and who can help them navigate adolescence in an extremely difficult time. Kids have more access to content, news, and people then they've ever had in any generation before them, and while there are some tremendous benefits to this connectivity, there are also some serious difficulties they are facing, and they don't need more buddies...they need wise adults, coming around them to help them know what real relationships look like, what real love looks like, and to remind them they have people they can go to to process life...because life is hard people, and we need to help our kids understand this too. We've forgotten the saying that God doesn't protect us from something that will perfect us.
I stopped by our local high school the other day, and as I got out of my car to check in the office, there was a student talking with an administrator. By the time I got from my car to the front door (about 25 feet), I heard that student tell the administrator to "___k off!" at least ten times (no the word he was saying before "off" was not Truck!). We have a huge portion of young people who have little respect for authority, and instead of blaming them let's own our role in allowing it. We've become buddies with our kids instead of leaders because we don't want to hurt their ego or squash their self-esteem, and in many cases we've stopped helping our kids realize they aren't always the victims.
Who's with me in this? (I feel like Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, when he's pleading with his army to remember that what they do on earth will echo in eternity.) So friends...Can we stack hands on some things?
- Let's work to get the full truth. Ask more questions of more people involved, to get a better understanding of the whole situation. Your child will only give you part of the story, remember the title of this blog post. All kids lie! Some intentionally, and some are only telling the partial truth, not even necessarily out of a desire to deceive, but because it's "their truth", it's the way they feel about it, and it's the way they remember it.
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angered. Part of our role as adults is to have the wisdom and discernment to help our young people understand how to navigate their adolescence. They don't need a bunch of frustrated adults, belittling their generation...they need caring adults who are quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angered, so they have safe people to talk to. Let's own our role in not doing this well.
- Relationships take work. It's hard to play board games with kids, shoot baskets, have a catch, go to coffee, go on walks, do family road trips, lay on the couch and listen...but if we want to see any change in our young people, it will take all of us willing to invest relationally with kids. Coach a sport, be a Big Brother/Big Sister, volunteer at the YMCA, read in a classroom, be a Young Life leader or a youth group leader in your church. Before we work at being critical, ask yourself, "Am I willing to invest relationally in kids lives?" As the saying goes; "Kid's don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care!"