At a certain point in your child’s life he will learn how to lie. In fact, he’ll learn pretty early on in his life that if he doesn’t tell the truth you may not know what’s happening or what happened, sparing himself punishment. How you handle the early untruths your child tells — and the degree to which you are an authoritative parent — will determine how much his lies continue. It’s tricky business. And kids get better and better at it as they get older says Vanessa Van Edwards in her book, Human Lie Detection and Body Language 101.
For parents, the most important thing to remember about lie detection and child lying is that one clue alone does not guarantee lying — but if you see some of the clues listed below in your child, it is a red flag to get more information.
1. Verbal Nuance
If the timing is off between gestures and words, lying or hidden emotions are most likely lurking. For example, if your teenager is talking about how angry they are about something, but their facial expression is one of sadness or neutrality, they are most likely forcing the emotion even though they do not feel it. Verbal nuance can also show up as a delayed reaction to the emotion. They might say, “Yeah, I am angry about it,” pause and then display an angry expression. This is not genuine emotion because their words are not matching their expressions.
A liar almost always shows great relief when the subject is changed. If you are talking to your child about an issue you are suspicious of and then move on from the topic, notice their reaction. If they show great relief or a total change in behavior, they were most likely tense or hiding something.
3. Fear vs. Surprise
Get to understand “microexpressions.” A microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression that is shown on the face of humans according to the emotions that are being experienced. Unlike regular prolonged facial expressions, it is difficult to fake a microexpression, says Edwards. They often occur as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second. There are seven universal microexpressions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and contempt. In terms of lying, fear and surprise are the most important ones for parents to recognize. After all, if you ask your child, “Did you know about the cheating incident at school?” A fearful microexpression will tell you something very different than if they look surprised.
- The brows are raised and curved
- Skin below the brow is stretched
- Horizontal wrinkles across the forehead
- Eyelids are opened, white of the eye showing above and below
- Jaw drops open and teeth are parted but there is not tension or stretching of the mouth
- Brows are raised and drawn together, usually in a flat line
- Wrinkles in the forehead are in the center between the brows, not across
- Upper eyelid is raised, but the lower lid is tense and drawn up
- Upper eye has white showing, but not the lower white
- Mouth is open and lips are slightly tensed or stretched and drawn back
4. Verbal Clues
If you are speaking with your child and they begin responding to an accusation by offering a belief in general instead of the specific instance (i.e. ‘Do you smoke pot?’ ‘I believe pot is dangerous’) they are subconsciously avoiding answering the question. They also might add in additional details until you believe them to fill silences. Liars often use phrases like “to tell you the truth,” “to be perfectly honest,” and “why would I lie to you?” Another clue to deceit is when older kids and teens have answers that sound extremely rehearsed, even if it is about a casual event.
Lying is a very natural, yet dangerous occurrence. Unfortunately it is part of growing up, but parents need to be aware of kids’ lying habits to keep them safe. These tips may help you in the right circumstance.