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My Teen Lies A Lot: Is it Pathological, Compulsive, or Typical Teen Behavior?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

It seems like you’re always catching your teen in a fib. Whether it’s the lie they tell when you ask them what happened after school, or the fake excuses they make to explain why they didn’t do something, you might wonder whether this kind of lying is common in teens, or the sign of an emotional or psychological problem.

One simple difference between common lying and pathological lying is the presence of an internal motive. Teens commonly lie to avoid consequences, protect themselves or their friends, or defend something they did. However, when it comes to compulsive or pathological lying, there’s often no clear motive for lying. Teens who compulsively lie will tell falsehoods about anything and everything, even when there’s no apparent benefit to them. They will lie habitually and chronically, and the lies come naturally to them.

Below are some other characteristics of people who lie compulsively or pathologically. Although the following list does not replace professional advice, it can help you determine whether you need to seek mental health treatment for your teen.

Compulsive and Pathological Lying: A Checklist

  • Teens who lie pathologically often mix in elements of the truth, in order to make the stories seem credible. They lie this way to manipulate others around them.
  • People who lie pathologically are not deterred by the risk of being caught. They lie even in instances when it’s easy for the listener to figure out the truth later, through another person or in some other way.
  • People who lie compulsively may actually believe the lies they tell, which is one reason lying comes easily to them. They lie so often that it becomes habitual, and they may not always be conscious they’re lying.
  • People who lie compulsively are often charismatic. They may be confident and engaging speakers. Their charisma may be one reason why other people simply absorb their stories without question.
  • The lies they tell are often colorful, dramatic, and detailed. They may often paint themselves as the victim or the hero in their stories. Other times, though, their lies are about trivial things that don’t really matter.
  • When you ask them a question, a person who lies pathologically will often get into long, detailed, and complicated sagas. They speak a lot and repeat many of their statements, but their responses typically don’t actually answer your question.

What Happens When You Catch Them in a Lie?

It’s hard to catch people who lie pathologically in a lie, as they don’t usually demonstrate the common signs of lying, such as taking long pauses or breaking eye contact. When asked a question, they often respond quickly and keep looking at you. This type of lying becomes second nature to them.

However, on the occasions that you do confront your teen about what you suspect – or know – is a lie, they may respond with shock and anger that you’re accusing them of lying. They won’t own up to their dishonesty and may instead turn themselves into the victim.  When caught in a lie, they may have no remorse or guilt. They may not even recognize or admit they did something wrong – and they’ll keep doing it again and again.

What Parents Can Do About Compulsive Lying

If you feel your teen is lying often and 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, otherwise known as mythomania.

Pathological lying is often a symptom of:

Treatment for Teens Who Lie Compulsively

To determine whether your teen’s lying is connected to any one of these mental health disorders, the best choice is to seek a clinical evaluation by a mental health professional sooner, rather than later. Depending on the outcome of the evaluation, your teen may require treatment at a residential treatment facility or outpatient treatment center for adolescents.

Compulsive or pathological lying can cause numerous problems in an adolescent’s life, including but not limited to strained relationships with family and friends, problems at school, and even legal consequences. Therapists often recommend professional intervention for teens who lie pathologically or compulsively. If there’s a mental health disorder involved, mental health professionals almost always advocate treatment and support as soon as possible: when an individual who needs treatment for a mental health disorder waits to receive that treatment, the healing and recovery process becomes more challenging.

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