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Children and Teens: The Narrative About the Lie

Lost and Found in The Time of Pandemic

Children lie.

The behavior itself is related to many things depending on the child, the child’s family, and life events experienced by the child. Culture, religion, and  belief systems can play into the narrative about the lie. The viewing angle of the parties involved influences the context within which the lie will be understood or whether it is even viewed as a lie.

In and of itself lying is a form of withholding the truth, distorting the truth, completely rearranging truth, or a sign of something completely unrelated. It could be a sign of a physiological issue.

Most definitions of a lie involve an element of “knowing” and “intention” behind the creation of the false statement.

Paul Ekman, PhD is a psychologist and considered one of the best experts on the lie and lying. He owns the company, the Paul Ekman Group. The popular series entitled, Lie to Me, staring Tim Roth was inspired by the work of Dr. Ekman.

We are intrigued and maddened by lying and the nature of a lie. It consumes considerable therapy time and it finds its way into the arts by way of literature, music, and film. It takes parents to the edge and becomes a reason for divorce, separation, break-ups, and disharmony. People want to trust one another. People say they want to know the truth. 

Dr. Ekman acknowledges that there are literally hundreds of reasons why people lie. He condensed them down to the reasons that are the most common. These include: 

Avoiding Punishment

Concealing Reward or Benefit

Protecting Someone from Harm

Self Protection

Maintaining Privacy

The Thrill of it All

Avoiding Embarrassment

Being Polite

Again, keep in mind that there are so many reasons for lying and in my clinical work with young people (children and teens) I often find they lie due to loss. Or perhaps because they are angry. And, at times because they feel powerless. Some teens explain that lying is a form of taking something from another, such as another’s peace of mind. In this context it is a form of aggression. With children I recommend treading lightly on the territory encompassed by a lie, especially if it has become a pattern. Seek professional assistance.

The fascination with truth and its partner, the lie, has been a part of human life for a very long time. In fact, according to Wikipedia the first known written account of Lying was done in AD 395 by Augustine de Hippo with the “Magnum qucaestio est de Mendacio.” Translated it means, “There is a great question about lying.” Lying has been written about in religions, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and is found in popular culture by stories such as, Pinnochio and best selling books where an unreliable narrator or narrators take readers on a ride of false paths. For example, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins. We also have the much beloved, The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf.

A very contemporary preoccupation with The Lie is the Pandemic Battle Cry of late known as Fake News, which is another word for a lie.

Lying has taken on a life of its own. We have many words for lying depending on the context in which the lie takes place. As such, words such as disinformation, fraud, memory hole, mutual deceit, perjury, puffery, forked tongue, and many more have emerged.

As a therapist I have always felt each story helps us explain that which rests before us. No two people with depression hold and contain that depression in the same way. The same is true of anxiety, loss and grief, and lying. It behooves us to seek to understand the lie in the context of the person who uses the lie. It seems this is the only way to arrive at a real understanding.

Thank you for reading.

Until next time, take care!

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

Children and Teens: The Narrative About the Lie

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, Ph.D.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, Ph.D. works in private practice as a psychotherapist. Nanette works with children, adults, adolescents, couples, and families. She also works as a consultant with public and private schools on issues ranging from suicide and violence prevention to topics on mental health issues affecting youth. She is the author of Entering Adulthood: Understanding Depression and Suicide, 1990,The Everything Self-Esteem Book with CD, 2011, and A Comparative Case Study of the Elderly Women Beggars of Central Mexico, 2006. She frequently appears on radio and television covering community mental health topics such as the Arizona wild fires in the summer of 2011 and the Gabrielle Gifford shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

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APA Reference
Burton Mongelluzzo, N. (2020). Children and Teens: The Narrative About the Lie. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Jul 2020
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