7 Key Signs of a Lying Child or Teenager
How to tell if a child or teenager might be lying.
Posted Jul 22, 2015
Author's Note: This article includes excerpts from the book How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult Teenagers.
Psychologist Adrian Furnham identified a variety of ways to detect whether an individual may be dishonest. We can apply some of the tips to communication situations with young children and teenagers.
It’s important to keep in mind that just because a child or teenager exhibits the following traits, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she or he is lying. Other factors, such as inhibition or insecurity, may be the cause. Ultimately, facts and credible witnesses may be needed to prove the validity of certain statements.
Having said that, when you observe one or more of the following traits from a young person while discussing an important issue, especially one that puts the youth on the spot, take note. At the minimum, you know that she or he is not certain about what she says.
1. Long Lag Time Between a Question and Response
This trait is particularly telling if you ask a child or teenager an easy to remember, factually oriented question, such as: “Did you go to the arcade yesterday after school?” If the young person takes a long time answering these types of basic questions, he may be trying to come up with the “right” answer, or a manipulated one, instead of speaking the truth.
2. Changing the Topic or Offering Irrelevant Information When Put on the Spot
Similarly, if a young person answers an important and direct question with an evasive or off-topic response, he may be avoiding and hiding an issue.
3. Higher Than Normal Vocal Pitch
People’s tone of voice typically goes up (especially towards the end of a sentence) when discussing something which causes insecurity, anxiety, or fear. This includes the possibility of telling a lie, and feeling uncomfortable with the deception.
4. Lack of Natural Silence or Pausing. Faster Than Usual Talking
When a child or teenager speaks quickly and incessantly in response to a direct question, and the fast-talking is not a normal communication trait, the young person might be trying too hard to convince, as in if she spoke slower or paused for silence, you might catch the holes in her story.
5. Stuttering Not Present in Normal Speech
When a person who normally doesn’t do so suddenly stutters when being put on a spot, it could be due to nervousness, self-consciousness, or defensiveness. It could also include the possibility of lying.
In addition to Furnham’s tips, here are additional non-verbal communication cues that may hint at a child or teenager being dishonest, inhibited, or, at the minimum, insecure. These signals are particularly telling when exhibited under direct questioning.
6. Eye Contact and Eye Movement
In many Western societies, avoiding natural eye contact when speaking can be interpreted as dishonesty, evasiveness, or shedding responsibility. Most of us have heard of the saying: “I don’t trust a person who can’t look me in the eye.” There’s some truth to this statement under proper cultural, social, and psychological contexts.
In addition, both eyes looking straight down can be discerned as feeling negative emotions (such as sadness, discouragement, or guilt), and eyes looking down but to one side can be interpreted as feeling negative, but not truly dealing with the experience.
Here’s an example: An adolescent is being called into account for wrongdoing, and you ask: “Do you know why you’re being punished?” If the young person answers “yes,” but looks down to the side, he probably doesn’t want to face the problem squarely and sincerely. He wants to say the right thing, and then be excused.
7. Physical Distance and Barriers
There’s a saying in communication: “physical distance equals emotional distance.” When you communicate with a young person on an important issue, observe whether she or he is crossing her arms or legs, turning the body sideways from you, holding an object in front of her chest to shield herself from you, or stepping behind a piece of furniture to establish a physical barrier with you. These non-verbal cues may not signify lying, but at the minimum, they suggest an emotional distance and less than complete openness.
Again, it’s important to keep in mind that just because a child or teenager exhibits some of the traits outlined in this chapter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she or he is lying. People who are confident and secure with what they say, however, generally do not exhibit the incongruous cues above. It’s useful to keep these tips in mind when assessing the communication authenticity of a young person.
© 2015 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
Furnham, A. Gesture Politics. People Management. (1999).
Ni, P. How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult Teenagers. Preston Ni Communication Coaching (2015).