“But why do kids lie?” she asked, shaking her head in disbelief. It was one mother’s shocked reaction to our finding out that our 16-year-old daughters lied about who’d be supervising a sleep-over party at a friend’s house. We found out: “No one.”
“Because that’s what they do,” I answered. “They tell ‘mis-truths’ (I softened the effect for her).
As parent, I recalled another occasion: I was about to step into a meeting with school administrators, to discuss safety concerns that had come up in our school.
Like Perry Mason, I’d assimilated evidence; I’d combined all in separate packets for each. But nothing could have prepared me for what came next.
Just as I was to begin, a secretary took me aside and said: “You daughter’s school wants you to call them immediately.” Noting the color drain from my face, she added: “She’s not in danger….They just need to discuss something with you.”
I hurried to a phone. When I identified myself, they began: “Mrs. Mellor, your daughter’s been caught smoking and she’ll now face a 3-day, in-school suspension.”
The Perry Mason in me began to argue…”There’s surely some mistake”…”My daughter doesn’t smoke.”
In reality, I feared the fall-out. She was in the final stretch of college applications, where every scintilla of student performance mattered. I wondered: “Could this affect her college admissions?”
Her excuse? My daughter told me she’d gone to the lav, where a tough girl directed her to hold her cigarette, while she went into a stall. That’s when a teacher came in and caught her.
Many years later, both daughters told me they couldn’t believe I fell for it.
She wasn’t the only one to deceive: Her older sister once explained her sunburn, on a day she played hooky, due her ‘class’s outdoor, lab experiment.’
In both instances, I should’ve remembered my own trip down Deception Lane.
Tall, slim, with Troy Donahue good looks, the McCabe twins entered 8th. grade to instantaneous stardom… fresh, new heart throbs to just about every girl in our school.
When they never noticed me, I determined to make them.
Our homeroom abutted the art supply closet where boxes of colored chalk sat on open shelves. Next to the supply closet was the cloakroom where we stored our outerwear…a poor idea, as you’ll see.
In a moment of adolescent insanity, I took the McCabe twins’ jackets, placed them on the floor, and stomped colored chalk into them, creating a psychedelic pattern of fuscia, green, and florescent orange, saying inwardly “Now they’ll notice me.”
For one whole week, school authorities tried to get to the bottom of who did this dreadful thing, but I never broke…not when teachers addressed our group….not when the principal reamed us out. I sat stonily as classmates stared me down, willing me, with their eyes, to confess.
Finally, on day 8 of my denial, the McCabe twins’ mother called my mother. She said she “wasn’t trying to get me in trouble, but she needed to know what Colleen had stomped into her sons’ jackets, so she could get them properly cleaned.’”
It was brilliant. She’d done what no one else had been able to…
Now, the axe came down.
The very next morning my mother drove me to school and marched me into the principal’s office where I had to ‘fess up before the man I’d lied to (by omission) for 8 solid days.
“Yes, I’d done it.” Worse yet, I’d covered it all up with this mountain of lies, afterwards.
Why’d I do it? Because kids do stupid things—and then they lie to protect themselves.
So, when you’re wringing your hands about whether you’ve produced a morally-bankrupt child, take heart. “Lying” is almost a given, when it comes to adolescence. It’s part of a maturational process, towards adulthood, whereby folks learn that the worst part isn’t necessarily the lie—it’s the cover-up and the many more lies one must design to protect the original deception.
The real concern? Those who never learn this…..
***Comments are always appreciated. Just scroll down and thank you.
Colleen Kelly Mellor (colleenkellymellor.com,) former monthly contributor to Providence Journal, is a retired public school teacher who taught all levels, kindergarten through grade 12, for 30 years. Photo is of my lovely daughters, beyond their adolescent years.