What to do if your teen is lying to you or stealing

Estimated read: 6 minutes 

At Family Lives we hear from parents who are concerned about their teenagers lying to and stealing from them, other family members and friends. This is easier to control and understand when it’s young children, but by the time your children reach their teens, you expect them to know better.

Key points:

  • There are a number of reasons why a teen may be stealing including fitting in, attention or they feel they need an item that they know parents may not buy them
  • Teen who are lying could be because they do not want to get into trouble, to protect themselves or to avoid a conversation with their parents 
  • Talking to your teen about these behaviours are very important as it can help you understand their motives and get them the help they need
teens stealing

The reasons behind why they are stealing could be down to wanting the latest game or mobile, and not wanting to save up and wait for it, but it’s also about pushing the boundaries your have set for them.

Why do teenagers steal?

To fit in
Peer pressure is behind a lot of the behaviour seen in teenagers, and wanting the latest gadget or new clothes, can drive them to use any means to get what they want.

For attention
Sometimes even negative attention can seem better than none at all. When you notice your money is missing, and the attention is on them – whether they own up to it or lie – it may be a cry for help.

Risky behaviour
There is a possibility that your teen wants the money for something that they shouldn’t be having. Alcohol, drugs and cigarettes are expensive, and they can’t exactly ask you for the money as that would cause unwanted and difficult questions, plus lies to cover up what they really want the cash for. 

Too embarrassed or anxious to ask
Condoms, emergency contraception, pregnancy kits, creams for rashes in sensitive places…and being too embarrassed to go to a clinic or GP means they will need money to buy these things. Asking you for the money and risking all the questions, is just adding to their worries. 

Just for the thrill
Sometimes the fun is in knowing that they’re doing something wrong…and getting away with it! 

Why do teenagers lie?

To stop you from nagging them
They know you are happier when you hear they’ve done well in their mock exams, and would rather avoid a lecture about revising harder and going out less.

To protect themselves
You may want an honest answer about whether they have slept with their boy/girlfriend or whether there’ll be alcohol at their friend’s party, but they may be worried about your reaction if they tell you the truth.

To get attention
Lying about feeling ill, or exaggerating an achievement at school, can get them lots of attention and this can boost their confidence, even though it’s not for real.

To avoid getting into trouble
If your teen has done something they know is wrong, they may lie to cover it up to avoid the consequences of their actions.

To get their own back on someone
A friend or classmate may have done something to upset them. By spreading rumours about them, they may feel they’ve evened the score. 

To test the limits
You’ve set boundaries on what they can and can’t do, where they can go and what time to be home by. Chances are, they don’t agree with these! So they lie about where they have been or who they have been with, because it gives them a feeling of control. They also think they can get away with doing what they want without you even knowing. 

Helping your teen manage their behaviour 

If you find out that your teen is lying or stealing, let them know immediately that you know. Remind them that this behaviour is unacceptable and give them meaningful consequences. When things are calm, have a conversation to find out why they have done this and try to help them resolve this issue.

It is important to stay calm and not to take this personally. They may be trying to solve a short-term issue that is affecting them and may need help and support.

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. 

This page was updated on October 2021 

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