Help! My Teen Lies Compulsively. What Can I Do?

Teens often lie. That’s a fact. Research shows roughly 96 percent of teens lie to their parents at least once in any given year. Teens typically lie to protect themselves or their friends, avoid embarrassment, avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or cover up emotions.

But there’s a difference between typical teen lying and compulsive lying.

While it’s common to tell a white lie or fudge the truth to avoid getting into trouble once in a while, compulsive lying is more extreme.

Compulsive Lying

Teens who lie compulsively or pathologically will lie habitually, often for no reason at all.

The stories they tell are often colorful and dramatic. They may lie about trivial things that don’t seem to matter. They get so used to lying that they’ll tell falsehoods even when it doesn’t benefit them.

This may puzzle friends and family.

If the teen doesn’t gain anything by lying, why do they do it?

Teen Mental Health Disorders

If you feel your teen is chronically lying often for no reason at all, they may be struggling with a mental health issue. Mental health disorders are usually the most common cause of pathological lying, also known as mythomania.

Teens who lie compulsively may have one of the following mental health issues:

When pathological/compulsive lying is connected to these mental health disorders, it can cause various negative consequences. Teens who lie compulsively or pathologically may have trouble at home and at school. They may struggle to maintain close relationships with family members, peers, and authority figures. Their lying might also get them in trouble with the law.

Can You Treat Compulsive Lying?

If your teen lies compulsively and pathologically with no apparent motive, your best choice is to arrange a psychological evaluation for them. A mental health professional will screen for the above diagnoses and then recommend a course of treatment. Usually, pathological lying is one of many symptoms of a mental disorder. That’s why treating the mental health or emotional issue itself typically improves the problem behavior.

Note: If you don’t think your teen lies compulsively or pathologically, there are other instances in which teen lying requires professional intervention. If your teen lies to cover up drinking, substance use, or other risky behavior, we recommend seeking the help of a mental health professional to determine whether your teen is struggling with addiction or another mental health issue.