Deception of Parents during Adolescence

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Two hundred eighty-one undergraduates at a large university in the southeastern United States anonymously completed a 26-item questionnaire about the degree to which they deceived their parents during high school. Only five percent of the respondents reported that they had never lied to their parents about "where I was." "Who I was with," "my alcohol use," and "my sexual behavior" were additional topics about which they lied the most. It was also found that (1) females lied more than males about sexual behavior, (2) the opposite-sex parent was deceived more often, and (3) intact homes were associated with more lying. Respondents also reported more lies when they lived with their parents than when they left for college. The implications of the findings are discussed.

Honesty is an important value in most relationships. Whether a dating partner, a cohabitant, a spouse, or a parent, individuals expect a modicum of honesty and feel betrayed when deceived. Previous studies on deception by children have emphasized that the capacity to deceive has been underestimated (Carison et al., 1998) and that parents are bothered by their children lying to them (Paniagua, 1989).

Furstenberg (2001) reviewed the literature of the 1990s on adolescence and noted that parents generally keep tabs on their children, but that their supervision declines during adolescence, with the parents "believing that they can count on their children to follow their directives" (p. 120). Furstenberg also emphasized that "youth do not always follow directives" and that "indeed, it could be said that a developmental task of adolescents is learning what not to tell parents and how not to tell them" (p. 120). The present study sought to identify the degree to which a sample of college students would report having lied to their parents as adolescents and the factors associated with such deception.

METHOD

Two hundred eighty-one undergraduates (65.5% female, 34.5% male) at a large university in the southeastern United States voluntarily and anonymously completed a 26-item questionnaire designed to assess deception of parents while in high school. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents had never been married. Their median age was nineteen years, with a range of sixteen to forty-one. Respondents were predominantly white (82.1%) and African-American (12.5%), with 5.4% indicating other ethnicities. Over two-thirds (68.7%) of the sample were from intact homes; the remainder (3 1.3%) were from nonintact homes.

FINDINGS

Whether the respondent lied to his or her parents depended on what the respondent was lying about. "Where I was" was the topic of greatest deception, with 65% of the respondents reporting have lied about this at least sometimes. Only 5% said they had never lied about where they were. Other frequent topics (and the percentage reporting having lied at least sometimes) included "my sexual behavior" (49%), "who I was with" (41%), and "my alcohol use" (42%). In spite of the high level of lying, 85% of the respondents agreed with the following statement: "I am basically an honest person."

Sex Differences

Females were significantly more likely than males to lie to their parents about their sexual behavior (p < . …