My son is 18 and going to college in 3 months. He took a 16 year old girl to his senior prom but left early and went and parked for 2 hours. He has lied and lied to me even after I have given him three or four chances to tell the truth. I am literally sick. What advice do you have?

This is a tough situation in which many parents will find themselves. When teenagers cross into young adulthood, it can be difficult to transition from “parent in charge” to “parent in support.” We know that adolescents at 18 still don’t have the best judgment and may make decisions that we disagree with. However, part of growing up and learning is making choices and then discovering the consequences.

That doesn’t mean that parents should step aside and let their children mess up, particularly in areas that are very important to their family and values. However, it does mean that there may need to be an adjustment to parenting approach.

Chances are, your son wants to keep his experiences private, particularly if he knows you would disagree with his choices. He may feel backed into a corner when he lies to you in order to protect his privacy and his choices. He is likely lying to you for those reasons, not anything more malicious.

You may want to try a different approach and acknowledge in a calm way that he is a young adult who can make his own choices and keep them private. You can also let him know that you care about him and the choices he makes and want to support him in making those choices.

I would recommend that in a first conversation during which you convey that you care about him and are there to support him in this transition to adulthood that you don’t make him answer any more questions. The more you set up this type of relationship, the more likely he will be to talk honestly with you and ask your opinion, rather than hide his choices from you for fear of your disapproval.

It is hard to readjust relationships like this, but it will be worth it in the long run to keep you son engaged with you and talking honestly. 

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Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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