Why be Skeptical? Reason #1 (Lying Cheating Teenagers)

One good reason why we should be skeptical is that people often lie, deceive, and cheat.

This is not just my personal opinion. This is a fact, a fact established by scientific observation and research. I have presented factual scientific data showing that very young children lie, and that elementary age children lie frequently. Now it is time to look into how much teenagers lie, deceive, and cheat.

I take it as an obvious truth that teenagers sometimes lie and deceive and teenagers sometimes cheat.   So, an important question is HOW MUCH do teenagers lie and deceive and cheat?

One psychologist who has studied this question is Nancy Darling.  Here are some important findings from one of her studies about teenagers [emphasis added]:


In the last few years, a handful of intrepid scholars have decided it’s time to try to understand why kids lie. For a study to assess the extent of teenage dissembling, Dr. Nancy Darling, then at Penn State University, recruited a special research team of a dozen undergraduate students, all under the age of 21. Using gift certificates for free CDs as bait, Darling’s Mod Squad persuaded high-school students to spend a few hours with them in the local pizzeria.

Each student was handed a deck of 36 cards, and each card in this deck listed a topic teens sometimes lie about to their parents. Over a slice and a Coke, the teen and two researchers worked through the deck, learning what things the kid was lying to his parents about, and why.

“They began the interviews saying that parents give you everything and yes, you should tell them everything,” Darling observes. By the end of the interview, the kids saw for the first time how much they were lying and how many of the family’s rules they had broken. Darling says 98 percent of the teens reported lying to their parents.

Out of the 36 topics, the average teen was lying to his parents about twelve of them. The teens lied about what they spent their allowances on, and whether they’d started dating, and what clothes they put on away from the house. They lied about what movie they went to, and whom they went with. They lied about alcohol and drug use, and they lied about whether they were hanging out with friends their parents disapproved of. They lied about how they spent their afternoons while their parents were at work. They lied about whether chaperones were in attendance at a party or whether they rode in cars driven by drunken teens.

Being an honors student didn’t change these numbers by much; nor did being an overscheduled kid. No kid, apparently, was too busy to break a few rules. And lest you wonder if these numbers apply only to teens in State College, Pennsylvania, the teens in Darling’s sample were compared to national averages on a bevy of statistics, from academics to extracurriculars. “We had a very normal, representative sample,” Darling says.

[Excerpted from:  “Learning to Lie” by Po Bronson, published Feb 10, 2008,  New York Magazine]


Nancy Darling made  a couple of comments worth noting about the above mentioned study:

“Most kids lie to their parents sometimes. For example, in a study we did of 121 high school students, 120 of them listed at least one area they lied to parents about. And that last teen told us they agreed with their parents about everything. (I’m not sure I believe them.) We’ve replicated these findings with thousands more kids in four countries on three continents.” (“Is Your Teen Trustworthy?Psychology Today,  Published on July 9, 2011)

The view that teenagers often lie and cheat is also supported by a survey of 43,000 high school students conducted by the Josephson Institute [emphasis added]:


Survey highlights: while 89 percent of students believe that being a good person is more important than being rich, almost one in three boys and one in four girls admitted stealing from a store within the past year. Moreover, 21 percent admitted they stole something from a parent or other relative, and 18 percent admitted stealing from a friend.

On lying, more than two in five said they sometimes lie to save money (48 percent of males and 35 percent of females). While 92 percent of students believe their parents want them to do the right thing, more than eight in ten confessed they lied to a parent about something significant.

Rampant cheating in school continues. A majority of students (59 percent) admitted cheating on a test during the last year, with 34 percent doing it more than two times.  One in three admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

“As bad as these numbers are, they appear to be understated,” said Michael Josephson, president of the Institute and a national leader in ethics training. “More than one in four students confessed they lied on at least one or two survey questions, which is typically an attempt to conceal misconduct.”

Josephson said the results of this survey, conducted in 2010, are slightly better than those of the 2008 survey.

Josephson Institute of Ethics’ Report Card for 2010


Note:  In a 2012  survey conducted by the Josephson Institute, the percent of lying, stealing, and cheating reported by high school students decreased somewhat.

A survey of 24,000 high school students produced results similar to the above Josephson Institute survey [emphasis added]:


Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey, has conducted much of the research on cheating in U.S. schools since 1990 and says cheating on tests in high school is on the rise.

In his survey of 24,000 students at 70 high schools, 64 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test, 58 percent admitted to plagiarism and 95 percent said they participated in some form of cheating, whether it was on a test, plagiarism or copying homework.

Problem is, he said, some students don’t think of it as cheating, or they try to justify their behavior.

“They feel a test is unfair and they feel it’s OK to cheat,” he said. “Maybe they had something to do that night and didn’t study. Another big issue is fairness — they feel that they are getting left behind.”

(“Students’ cheating takes a high-tech turn” by Jeremy P. Meyer, The Denver Post, POSTED:   05/27/2010 )


Another indication of teenage deception is the fact that while many teenagers drink alcohol, parents are generally unaware that their teenage child drinks alcohol [emphasis added]:


 Abstract: This study included 199 White mother-adolescent dyads and 144 White father-adolescent dyads. All adolescents reported regular alcohol use, yet less than one third of parents were aware of their adolescents’ drinking. […]

Despite public concern and media hype surrounding drug use by adolescents, studies have confirmed that American adolescents’ use of some illicit drugs, including cocaine, hallucinogens, and heroin, is minimal. In a 1995 national survey, only from 1% to 4% of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders reported using any of these substances in the previous 30 days. The use of other substances during the month preceding the study was more prevalent, with from 9% to 21% of students reporting marijuana use and from 19% to 34% reporting cigarette use. Alcohol use was even higher, with 25% of eighth graders, 39% of 10th graders, and 51% of 12th graders reporting that they drank in the previous month (Johnston, O’Malley, & Bachman, 1996). Public attention has been misdirected at adolescents’ use of illicit drugs, even though licit drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, cause more deaths in the United States than all other drugs combined (Ellickson, 1992) and may, in the long run, pose a greater risk to the developing adolescent and more harm to society (Kandel, Single, & Kessler, 1976; Newcomb & Bentler, 1989).


Even though some adolescents experiment with alcohol without becoming regular users (Kandel et al., 1978), few studies have recognized this distinction and focused on adolescents who are regular drinkers. (For exceptions, see Barnes & Farrell, 1992; Barnes et al., 1994). To avoid confounding experimentation with regular use, this study focuses only on adolescents who were using alcohol on a regular basis.


The subsample derives from a study of eighth to 12th graders (n = 1,227) and their parents (n = 1,176) from three school districts In urban, suburban, and rural settings in a single Midwestern county between December, 1994, and May, 1995.


Parents’ beliefs about their adolescents’ alcohol use.

Parents responded to the question, “How likely is it that your child currently drinks alcohol?” in one of seven categories. (See Table 1.)

Parents’ beliefs about alcohol use by their adolescents’ close friends.                                                                                                   Parents responded to the question, “How likely is it that your child’s close friends currently drink alcohol?” in one of seven categories. (See Table 1.)

Parents’ awareness of their adolescents’ alcohol use.

Previous studies have concluded that adolescent self reports of alcohol use on anonymous or identifiable surveys are valid and reliable (Malvin & Moskowitz, 1983; Mensch & Kandel, 1988). Because this study included only adolescents who reported the regular use of alcohol, parents were classified as either unaware or aware of their adolescents’ use of alcohol based on their response to a question regarding beliefs about the adolescent’s alcohol use. Parents were coded unaware if they responded that the adolescent was somewhat, very, or definitely unlikely to be drinking alcohol. Parents were coded aware if they responded that the adolescent was somewhat, very, or definitely likely to be drinking alcohol or that they were not sure. The response, not sure, was classified in the aware category because parents typically underestimate adolescent alcohol use, and this uncertainty indicates some suspicion that the adolescent is using alcohol. (The percentages are reported in the results.)


Parental Awareness of Alcohol Use by Their Adolescents and Their Adolescents’ Close Friends

This first set of analyses confirmed our hypothesis that the majority of mothers and fathers would be unaware of their adolescents’ alcohol use. Although all adolescents included in this study reported using alcohol at least once a month, only 29% of mothers were aware of their adolescents’ alcohol use. Moreover, few aware mothers were definite when asked about the likelihood that their adolescents currently were using alcohol. Only 5% responded “definitely”: 4%, “very likely”; and 6%, “not sure.” The largest group of aware mothers, 1552, responded that their adolescents’ alcohol use was “somewhat likely.” Despite adolescents’ reports of regular use of alcohol, the majority of mothers, 71 %, were unaware. Most were quite certain that their adolescents were not currently using alcohol. Specifi cally, 26% of the unaware mothers responded “defi nitely not,” and 33% responded “very unlikely”; only 12% of the mothers responded that their adolescents’ use was “somewhat unlikely.”

We obtained similar results for fathers. Only 31 % were aware that their adolescents were currently using alcohol. Few aware fathers were certain about their adolescents’ use. Only 2% responded “defi nitely”; 4%,

“very likely”; and 6%, “not sure.” The largest group of aware fathers, 19%, responded that their adolescents’ alcohol use was “somewhat likely.” Despite adolescents’ reports of regular alcohol use, 69% of fathers were unaware. The majority were quite certain that their adolescents adolescents did not currently drink alcohol. Specifi cally, 24% of unaware fathers responded “defi nitely not,” and 29% responded “very unlikely”; only 16% of the fathers responded “somewhat unlikely.”

[“Other Kids Drink, But not my Kid“: Does Parental Awareness of Adolescent Alcohol Use Protect Adolescents from Risky Consequences?” (1998).

Karen Bogenschneider, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Ming-Yeh Wu, Soochow University

Marcela Raffaelli, University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Jenner C. Tsay, University of Wisconsin

University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Faculty Publications, Department of Psychology. Paper 116, 5-18-1998]


For teenagers who report regular alcohol use,  about 70% of their parents are UNAWARE that their teenager is currently using alcohol.  This suggests that many of these teenagers are involved in lying and/or deceiving their parents, at least about their use of alcohol.

Most teenagers lie and deceive.  Most teenagers are dishonest with their parents on several topics.  Most teenagers cheat in school, either on tests or on assignments.  Most teenagers who regularly drink alcohol manage to hide this from their parents.  Those are the facts.