By Mirra Ghosh
Jaspreet is an 18-year-old high school senior in New York City. She is tall, with thick wavy hair, and conventionally attractive. She is president of the student council, volunteers at a shelter for the homeless, and maintains a 3.8 GPA. Jaspreet’s parents are extremely proud, most of all because she hopes to become a dentist one day.
But there is a side to Jaspreet her parents don’t know about. And if they did, they might not ever speak to her again.
Jaspreet has been secretly dating a married man for two years. She sneaks out of her house at night, crawling through her bedroom window, and spends the night with him in a cheap motel room. When she isn’t seeing him, she goes on blind dates with men she meets on the Internet, and sometimes has sex with them.
Because Jaspreet is not allowed to have boyfriends, she hides these facts from her parents. Her lying has exacerbated to such an extent that Jaspreet now finds herself lying about the simplest of things. “I lie about something every day. I’ll lie about when my tests are, about how much homework I do, about what music I listen to, even about what clothes I go out and buy. I don’t know how not to anymore.”
Jaspreet’s story is not uncommon. Teenagers, and South Asian teenagers particularly, are known to lie to their parents. But a series of studies have shown that teenage lying patterns are much more complex than we thought.
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s new book, NurtureShock, features a chapter on ‘the science of teen rebellion’ that sheds light on the reasons why, and the ways in which, teenagers lie.
They cite a study by Darling and Caldwell at Penn State University that revealed out of 36 topics presented to a large sample of high school students, the average teenager lied to her parents about 12 of them.
The numbers didn’t change much whether the teenager was an honours student, or if she was actively involved in school activities. It clearly showed that lying was a natural phenomenon of the teenage years.
But contrary to the belief that teenagers lie to stay out of trouble, the main reasons the teens cited for their dishonesty were: “I’m trying to protect the relationship with my parents; I don’t want them to be disappointed in me.”¹