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Is it safe to be honest?

Teenagers will tend to be deceitful and dishonest when they know they will be criticised, lectured and argued with. As adults, are we inclined to open up and be transparent with other adults if we know they will judge, criticise and reject what we have to say and do?

Surely the answer is ‘no’.

Psychologically healthy humans move away from pain and towards pleasure; it’s how our brains are wired.

If we want to raise honest children, besides leading by example the next prerequisite is to ensure our interactions with them are non-threatening and pleasurable.

Teenagers are most concerned about fitting in and being accepted. They will take risks and do irrational things just to look good and be accepted by peers.

When we do not meet this primary psychological need of theirs then they turn to their peers to get it met. The less they feel accepted at home the more they will seek acceptance from others.

Some teens become overachievers so as to get accepted. They believe they will be assured of love if they perform and achieve. The unspoken message they get from their family is that they will be loved IF or WHEN they achieve. This is not unconditional love and is destructive.

So how do we provide that safe space so that they can be open and honest with us?

Primarily by letting them know they are loved no matter what they do, no matter what grades they get, no matter how difficult or disobedient they are.

Remember teenagers’ brain neurons are going through pruning during adolescence. They don’t mean to be disobedient. They don’t mean to ignore our requests; our voice is just not as important to them as their peers.

Understanding this helps reduce our resentment a great deal. We can be more tolerant knowing that their brains are firing differently, and it will normalise gradually as they get closer to 25 years of age.

While they are taxing our nerves and testing our patience we must not lecture or criticise or argue. Biting our tongue, refraining from the negative comments is what will make them feel safe to open up to us and find less need to lie or deceive.

Of course, even when we do provide the safe space, they may still tend to deceive a little and do things they know are wrong.

You may rightfully ask, how then are we to get them to carry out their responsibilities in a timely manner if criticising and lecturing are to be avoided? There are many ways to get them to be responsible, cooperative and do what they must do in the home.

I have written about these many times. Offering choices works like magic: “Would you rather wash the dishes or clean the floor?”; “You’re welcome to use your device when your laundry is done.”; “I’ll be happy to let you use my car when your grades are satisfactory.”

Follow these examples, spoken in calm, respectful tones and your teens will feel safer around you. You will raise the odds for them being more honest.

Of course, often referring to virtues and the values of integrity and honesty in the home and abiding to the Ten Commandments, and New Testament teachings, our guide to happiness, is also powerful.


For support with developing positive relationships with your children feel free to contact me for coaching or read my blogs on