Lies, damn lies and teenagers
Do you remember the days when your kids were biddable, easily bundled into a car for a day trip, could be bribed to do anything with sweets or Lego, still occasionally listened to what you said, and didn’t call you a “nob’ed” or reply “your mum” to every question, plea, or demand? Conversely, dogs can be relied on to worship you and do whatever you command, without question, for life. While babies and toddlers obviously have their drawbacks, they, and dogs, can’t wage the sort of psychological war on you that teenagers can, swiftly reducing their parents either to insecure husks as unsure of their methods as a newborn kitten or to stressballs of rage questioning why they ever thought that being a parent would be anything other than accusations, lies and counter-accusations?
I remember when I discovered how to lie. Having been brought up as a Catholic it never came easily to me, as I had a built-in confessional box nestling in my Cathedral-sized conscience that my friends didn’t seem to have. But they all started lying their deceitful faces off as soon as they’d bought their first electric blue mascara from Boots so I thought I’d have a go too. It started with a trip to the cinema to see a 15 film when I was 13, then progressed to stuffing patent stilettos, a puffball skirt and a short military-style jacket (God I love the 80s) into my bag as I lied about staying at my friend Nicky’s to “go to town” and browse the records in Right Price, buy some pick n mix in Woollies then head to Chelsea Girl to pick up some new neon legwarmers, then safely back before dark for a cocoa and bed at 9.30.
What I was actually doing was tarting myself up in those cutting-edge fashions to head into Union Street, the most notorious street in my home town, packed with sleazy pubs and nite spots and sailors (it was a maritime town and regularly tipped out boatfuls of navy boys and girls into the murky night), to paint the town red. I didn’t even drink, or swear (see the Catholic bit above), and the thought of a sailor looking at me let alone “chatting me up” was terrifying. But it was a pure thrill – escaping my tiny village, going to this horrible place, and lying about it. Of course I confessed everything when I got home the next day and was grounded for a fortnight, and my mother STILL mentions it – I’m 41 now – but I explain to her that it’s normal, that teenagers lie, it’s all part of cutting the ties that bind us to our children and painful as it is, we have to do it so that they have the confidence and independence of spirit to go forth into the world.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself berating my own teenage son, 15, for lying. As a wily female and accomplished former teenage liar, I know when he’s telling me porkies. It was about staying at a friend’s house too, but it was the way he couldn’t meet my eye and got defensive when I questioned him that told me he wasn’t telling the truth. The thing is, I do almost feel relieved. My experiences with my own telling of half-truths, in response to a restricted teenage life, bound by distance from my city-dwelling friends and my mum’s fear for my life outside of the house, made me determined that I would give him more freedom, trust him more, let him grow up. As I said earlier, lying is normal in teenagers; all I want is for him to stay safe and to know that when he does need to come and tell me the truth about something, he can.
At least with the dog I know that he isn’t capable of lying, will always go with me wherever I go, will trust me to the ends of the earth and will do anything for a gravy bone and that will never change. Children, teenagers, they all grow up and pull away from us and it seems to have happened so quickly. I watch my brother, with three boys under 6, he and his wife hollow-eyed with exhaustion because they never sleep. I tell him that it will pass and I can see in his eyes that he doesn’t believe me. As my son said to me last night as he was relentlessly nagging me to let him stay home alone with his mates (hence the lie about staying at a friend’s house) while we drove 100 miles away to a New Year’s Eve party, “I could leave home next year and you won’t even leave me for 24 hours!” He has a point. Maybe he’ll be persuaded to stay with a lolly.