I don't know what to do about my son's lying

My son stole my debit card and lied about it. It's not the first time he has lied. I don't know what to do anymore. I don't know if I should punish him or make him do something. I've tried talking to him and asking if anything was wrong. I have grounded him, but nothing works. What should I do?

Pamela Suraci
Pamela Suraci
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A lot depends on the age of your child, but given that it was a mis-used debit card, I am going to guess he's a teen?  Assuming that, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind...

1.  That he lied about the misuse indicates he knows he was in the wrong.  That's a dreadful feeling - getting caught out- and an impulsive lie may have popped out of his mouth before he thought it through (after all a debit spend is pretty easy to track).  

2. Once he lied he stuck with the lie.    Somewhere along the line, even though he knew that you knew he wasn't telling the truth, he stuck with his story.  And as you said, it's not the first time he lied.  Now it looks like a habit has formed.

Going forward, when there is a dishonest act of any kind, it's essential that you set it up so your son can be truthful.  Simply put, do not ask questions.  If you know for certain that he has, for example, misused your debit card, say so.  Asking "did you" invites him to get creative with denial; asking "why did you" implies that, with a good enough reason, he might not be in hot water with you.  Instead, say what is:  "I see this charge on my debit card and realize you used it without my permission".  (You can only do this if you know for sure it was him but it sounds like you do).  

If he meets with denial, stay calm, restate that you are aware this happened.  Then deliver consequences that match the transgression (he has to return the item if it's returnable or find a way to pay you back for the charge as well as any fees incurred in using it).  Make it harder to find your card because he isn't that great at curbing the impulse to use it yet.

And most importantly, once the consequence is delivered you have to let it go.  Continuing to bring it up won't benefit him, but it does have the potential to make him more sneaky.  Every time he asks respectfully to use it, whether you allow him to or not, be sure to praise him for asking nicely.  "Catch" him doing it right as often as possible.

Hang in there - this isn't super unusual behavior but it isn't acceptable, so address it but don't let yourself get too wound up about it.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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