Navigating teenagers: Reward honesty, react strongly to dishonesty

I wish all teenagers would understand that if you are guilty of a pattern of lies you undermine your integrity completely.

Teenagers are at their most creative when explaining why they haven’t done their homework, turned up for DT or done chores. Blame shift should be declared an art form. Just when I think I’ve heard it all I’m presented by a new version of teenage ingenuity.

Let’s be honest, we all, adults included, do verbal gymnastics with the truth, to put ourselves in the best possible light.

The bottom line is that we have to inculcate a habit of truthfulness, of choosing (yes, it is a choice) to be honest, of not stooping to the self-protecting lie. I wish all teenagers would understand that if you are guilty of a pattern of lies you undermine your integrity completely. I would be quite concerned as an adult, about being thought of as generally untrustworthy. But to the teen, if a “simple denial,” could prevent a month’s grounding… that's a temptation indeed. It’s a tough call.

They will fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people, all of the time. Least of all God, who sees all that we do. Proverbs 12:22 reminds us that “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.” Luke 16:10 provides further discomfort.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

I told a teen this year that I no longer wanted him to speak to me (for a time) as he had lied so consistently I had no way of judging whether he was being truthful or not. He had to rebuild the trust that he had shattered.

Reward honesty

Reward honesty, celebrate it! Lessen the consequences for the wrongdoing for first time honesty and genuine remorse. Don’t take all the consequences away however, it sends the wrong message, that a simple apology can make all things right. Similarly, when a teen lies or shifts blame, add to the consequence, make it more severe. Remorse and full disclosure is even a consideration in our courts of law. It mitigates in your favour.

“Sir, I was wrong, I have no excuse,” always gets me out of my chair. I shake the teens hand and congratulate them on the choice they have made. Yes, I am making a point to the other pupils in my office at the time. The point I’m making is simply this:

it is courageous and correct to tell the truth knowing that consequences will follow.

I look at you with new respect and the next time I see you I remember your honesty and not your offence.

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Author: Gavin Fish
Blessed with a long-suffering wife, two adult children, a daughter-in-law, a bicycle (wannabee road cyclist) and uncountable bonsai, Gavin was in education for 34 years, the last 12 of which as Principal of Fish Hoek High School. He is steeped in the traditions of Scripture Union and a lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ and now works in his community as a Life Coach with a heart for teens, young adults and their parents.
Published: 16 August 2023
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