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My parents insist that I lied to them about a chore. It was an accident and not intentional. They do not believe me yet I don't lie to them. I am getting punished big time and don't know what to do. What should I do to try and fix the situation?

I am from 14 to 18 years old. I have not been caught lying before and was calm when telling them that it was an accident.

Note

It was not a large, accidental lie. It was a small thing about the location of a mineral feeder for animals. They assumed I had moved, it yet it slipped my mind.

  • 2
    How old are you Bob? I think you should fill in the details, because as it stands, it's difficult to advise you. Have you ever lied and been discovered before? Were you polite and respectful when you try to tell them this truth? – WRX May 18 '17 at 15:22
  • To add to Willow's remarks: what does punished "big time" mean? What exactly is the punishment, and how important to the care of the animals is this mineral feeder? This helps us understand what exactly happened to help you address the situation. – adeady May 18 '17 at 15:44
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    We will be able to give you a better idea of how to handle this if we can better understand exactly what happened. Some things that would help with that: what were you supposed to do? What did (or didn't) you do? Why was this important? How important was it? What are your parents accusing you of doing / not doing that makes them think you lied? What are they going to do for punishment? Have you ever made this mistake before? If so, how often? It's a lot different if you forgot one minor thing once and they want to ground you for life vs. a major repeated mistake and a small punishment – Becuzz May 18 '17 at 19:11
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    Are they mainly punishing you for lying, or are they mainly punishing you for not doing the chore? These are very different things... – user541686 May 19 '17 at 6:17
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    "I am from 14 to 18 years old" Your parents shouldn't let you play with the time machine :) – Philipp May 20 '17 at 13:14
25

I will assume that the reason your parents were so upset was because real harm may have come to the animals.

I will also assume that the 'lie' was by omission. When they asked if you'd done your chores, you answered , "Yes", because you honestly forgot that you had not done one part but did take care of the rest. It was an 'honest' mistake.

If the above is true, then I can see both sides.

Animals are helpless and when we are their caregivers, we cannot afford to make mistakes at their expense. I don't know if this is how your family makes their living, but regardless -- we can easily understand why this was so important.

You did not answer what the 'big time' punishment was, but is it possible that they are trying to impress on you just how important doing this sort of chore 100% every single time is a requirement, not an option?

I think if it were my mistake, I'd ask to talk it over and sit down calmly. Say something along the lines of: you understand completely why this was such a bad mistake; not answering the question about having done the chore without thinking it through, was wrong. Suggest a way that you will do better in the future like making a list and checking off each part when it is done -- a double-check sort of system. Agree that it was unacceptable and that you will do better in future.

I can't say if the punishment will be changed, reduced or removed, but standing up to the mistake and accepting the consequences and understanding the responsibility will work you far better than the actual punishment. This is one of those times that "suck it up" works as advice (unless it was honestly ridiculous in nature -- but you did not say what the punishment was), and pick yourself up and carry on.

Everyone makes mistakes. Maturity comes when we learn to accept them, learn from them, and not make them again.

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    You answer as if the punishment was for the slip (and how dangerous it might have been). According to the question, it was for the lie, and he did not lie. From what's written in the question the parents might have seen the slip as unimportant and not worthy any punishment, but the assumed lie is what got them upset. If we assume Bob isn't lying to us here and now then your answer is off the point. – Alfe May 19 '17 at 8:44
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    @Alfie, Fair point, but as the OP has not given us the details, I took a shot. Also I assumed that the 'lie' was a misspeak or an omission. So I suggested that he admit to the mistake of omission and the unintentional lie. If he has the opportunity to talk calmly and takes responsibility, I think the parents might see that he did not intentionally lie to them at all. That was the part about him not having thought through his answer. I hope that by sitting calmly and taking responsibility for the error, he will have the opportunity to have his parents listen to the not lying part. – WRX May 19 '17 at 11:22
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    @Alfe Okay, Alfie I see that you do not understand that in my opinion an explanation and apology opens the conversation which then allows for the parents to understand the OP's pov about not really lying. Thanks, but I think I'll stick with this answer. – WRX May 19 '17 at 11:34
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    I not only understand, I even agree with the idea that explanations and apologies open conversations. (Maybe not always, depending on your counterpart.) But that's not the point here. That you call it "not really lying" shows me that you are still convinced of there being some kind of lie and your answer still shows this. So It's off the topic about dealing with being treated unfairly. Bob might have apologized and explained. The point is the unfair treatment do to a punished but not committed lie. – Alfe May 19 '17 at 14:18
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    You can't really have an "unintentional lie" - it does violence to the idea of a "lie" which is an intentional untruth. There is a big difference in moral culpability between saying something that is false and deliberately saying something that is false (or perhaps, saying something knowing that you have no grounds for saying it which comes close). I don't think the introduction of the concept of "unintentional lie" helps things . here. – Francis Davey May 21 '17 at 0:11
11

I had a similar situation in a similar age range.

Family car broke after I used it. Got accused of incorrectly using it. After a discussion I said: "I used it and I'll pay the full repair but I admit no fault in using the car. It is just old". My father was not happy about that.

Some time later my father approached me and told me that indeed it had not been my fault and explained me he had discovered why it had truly broken. He didn't have to tell me, could have kept me in the dark.

Your situation is not the same since there is no impartial way to determine if you lied. Knowing laziness and unknowing carelessness about the mineral feeder look the same. But the lesson is the same: Never ever admit being guilty about something you have not done.

Stand up for yourself.

  • Tell your parents that you were at fault about not properly carrying out that chore. Apologize. Promise to be more careful in the future.
  • Tell them that you did not lie and you could not respect yourself if you falsely admited a lie.
  • Tell them that whatever decission they take you will accept it whether you agree or not. They are your parents and you respect their decissions even when you don't agree. You know they always act in your best interest.

Be warned that they are likely to not be happy when you tell them this. In the short term rather than decrease your punishment this might actually increase it. This is a thorny way to walk. Only do this if you care about the long term. And only if you truly did not lie.

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    I completely agree that lying about whether you lied or not -- would be lying. I liked your wording, it is clear. The OP may have to take the punishment, but he doesn't have to admit to lying. If he is lying to us and to them, then he's done himself a huge disservice. I assume and hope he is telling the truth. – WRX May 20 '17 at 14:51
9

I will just assume that you actually are being handled unfairly because your judge (your parents) came to a wrong understanding of the truth (they assumed you lied and punish you mainly for this aspect).

I do not take into account the following aspects:

  • The punishment for the assumed (!) wrongdoing might be too harsh.
  • The punishment might be for what actually happened (the accidental thing), not what you say has not happend (the lying).
  • Any other aspect like massive repetition of the wrongdoing, massive endangering of animals.

That said, I'd say you are in the situation of having to accept something unfair happening to you. That's happening all the time in real life. Your brother's kindergarten group will make several trips while yours will make none. You will be given wrong information, as a result you make the wrong home work (or none), and the teacher will still hold you accountable for it. You will get parking tickets for spots where you think you rightfully could assume you could park (but judges won't follow your opinion). Without doing any cheating, spouses will suspect you to be a cheater and treat you coldly. Your boss will prefer a less-working colleague of yours. You will get paid too little. Laws will pass which treat you unfairly. When getting old, your body will fall apart quicker than your neighbour's (in spit of you working out regularly and living healthy while he just drank beer and smoked).

My advice is: Stick to the truth (don't start telling your parents you admit having done it intentionally just to please them), but accept the unfair treatment nevertheless because you are mature enough to understand that your parents also are just human beings who in some cases will make an error which results in this. The problem about the lying issue is that as a parent you never can be 100% sure that a child is lying (especially if they claim to not have noticed something). Yet while growing up it is a normal process for children to try out lying and parent must react to it. So, accept the results like you would accept bad weather on a day you wanted to go for a ride: Be mad about it, cry or whatever, but in the end just accept it because you won't change it and it won't break you. Don't let it creep into you and foul you up like this was something which just must not happen. This is something normal.

One main fault in raising children (from my point of view) is to tell them or make them otherwise think that life will or must or even only should be fair to you. It will not. Sometimes the unfairness will give you an advantage, sometimes a disadvantage.

We humans should nevertheless always try to treat others fairly, don't confuse that. But being held to this path does not mean you are entitled to a life which will be fair to you all the time.

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  • ah but he did fail to move the mineral feeder and that was a mistake -- intentional or not. That's is what he should apologise for -- not for lying but for failing to tell the entire truth. I assume he did not think it through and the lie was a simple mistake. Perhaps he honestly forgot -- and that is technically not a lie. However, the animals did suffer the consequences and that upset the parents. Admitting the error opens the conversation. If OP is upset to be accused of lying, he should deal with his mistake before attempting to correct their misunderstanding. – WRX May 19 '17 at 11:41
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    I agree with everything above except the use of the word "technically". If there was no intent or willingness to mislead, there was no lie, full stop. As far as the problem with the mineral feeder location, that is a procedure-following error. There are well-known ways to prevent procedure-following errors that are practised by industries such as aviation and mass transport. One mature way that OP could respond to the situation would be to learn about them and propose using them. See the book The Checklist Manifesto and atlasobscura.com/articles/pointing-and-calling-japan-trains – Andrew M. Farrell May 19 '17 at 12:41
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    @Willow You assume several things which are not necessarily true and in any case not part of the question. Maybe no animal suffered. Maybe Bob did admit and apologize at once. We don't know, so I assume nothing. To advise Bob to accept the punishment because he did something different wrong before is not part of my world-view. Don't make it sound like the punishment was fair "because". The punishment was wrong, it's unfair, now we need to deal with this. – Alfe May 19 '17 at 14:14
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    Quite. He absolutely shouldn't apologise "for failing to tell the entire truth" because that was not his fault, his fault was quite different. – Francis Davey May 21 '17 at 0:13
8

At your age, fairness and getting things right from your perspective matters a lot.

There is a difference between lying (requires intent), accidental false statements, false statements where intent cannot be proven, intentional omission, and accidental omission. Many people tend to simplify that and incorrectly call things a "lie". Some people also have double standards, where something is a "lie" if others do it and an "omission" if they do it. My point is: The difference matters to you, possibly more so than it matters to them. Thus changing the terminology may not get rid of the punishment.

If you really want to fight for your reputation, rather than just trying to get a lesser punishment, the way out is as follows:

  • Accept that you screwed up. From the question it seems that the accident was yours to prevent. Own up to it.
  • Accept the punishment. Life isn't perfectly fair, but you did something wrong and you are getting punished - things could be worse. From their perspective, as long as your claim of not having lied is related to them removing the punishment, your claim is not credible.
  • If you manage to accept that you did wrong and accept that you get a huge punishment as a result - and only once you actually believe it, which may take a few hours of contemplation - ask for a discussion with your parents. Tell them you know what you did wrong, apologize for your mistake, and tell them that you accept the punishment, but also tell them you do not want them to think of you as a liar because you didn't lie to them.
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    The question as it stands points out that the punishment is for the lie, not for the slip, and that in reality he did not lie. So telling him to accept that he screwed up is misleading. He screwed up on a different thing (and seems to accept that, btw). He just has trouble accepting the punishment for something he did not do (lying). – Alfe May 19 '17 at 8:39
  • @Alfe That's what I was trying to tell with this answer: He won't get out of the punishment, even tough it's for something he didn't do. The world isn't perfectly fair, but being punished for the wrong reason after doing something wrong is still better than getting punished for doing good. – Peter May 19 '17 at 9:18
  • Actually not much. And he said that the slip itself was rather a minor fault compared to the suspected lying. But I see your point. And my answer revolves mostly around the unfairness and handling it. – Alfe May 19 '17 at 10:05
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Unfortunately, your parents have all the power in this situation and you are unlikely to be able to change their minds.

Your best course of action is likely to depend on what the "big time" punishment they are imposing is. If their punishment is appropriate and achievable, you should probably just roll with it, show your parents that you can accept the consequences for your actions, then try to figure out a way to make sure it doesn't happen again (make a checklist of what needs doing when you do your chores?).

If it's unachievable (e.g. completing the punishment they have set would impact on your schooling or other responsibilities, or leave you sleep-deprived etc), I would suggest that you express that to your parents. Tell them you're prepared to take the consequences of your actions, and you want to prove to them that you can be reliable and responsible, but that you don't want to let anything else slip in the process.

If your punishment is inappropriate to the mistake you made, can you figure out anything that would be more appropriate? For example, you could take more regular responsibility for looking after the animals, make it a routine; you could take on different chores instead, something that doesn't risk any creature's health if you forget it or do it late but does take some of the load off your parents and/or any siblings you've got. Suggesting an appropriate consequence for your actions is a mature, sensible thing to do, and your parents might be more persuaded by that than you trying to argue you shouldn't face punishment at all.

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1

I don't think there's one thing we can tell you regarding how to resolve this problem, because every parenting situation is different. The best way to deal with the situation with your parents is not the best way to deal with the situation if I were your parent. We're all different. That being said, there's a few general approaches which have a proven track record.

I think the first step is to think critically about the "big time" punishment, and how big it really is. You haven't stated what the punishment is, so we have to take your word on it, but really take a look at how big it really is. Teenagers often blow things like this way out of proportion (source: I was a teenager once). You're going to be 18 soon, and you'll find that the punishments that you may face are much more dire than anything a parent can do, and you may face those punishments even if innocent. We don't like to admit it, but innocent people do get punished.

You have to think critically about this punishment because the severity of the punishment affects how hard you should work to be free of it. If it's actually a small thing that you've blown up out of proportion, it's better to show to your parents that you can shrug off the punishment, without admitting guilt, and get on with life. That's a good skill to have. On the other hand, if it is indeed as big as you think it is, to the point where it is going to have a material effect on your life down the road, then by all means, spend the effort needed to respond to the punishment and nullify it.

Try taking the emotion out of your attitude about the punishment, analyze it, then put the emotion back in. If you can analyze it the same both with and without emotion, there's a good chance that it's a good and reliable analysis. If you notice that your opinion shifts when you let your emotions back in, listen to them. Then, take the emotion out again, and try to address what they told you. The back and forth process is slow, but eventually leads you towards a position that you can be comfortable with.

Once you understand how big or small the punishment really is, and how much energy you want to put towards resolving it, now you can look at the players on the field. There's actually 3 entities you can interact with. There's your parents (2 of the entities), and then there's the punishment. The punishment gets isolated because once your parents enacted it, they are obliged to enforce it (to show that punishments mean something). They will certainly have insulated themselves from the punishment. This is important because if you try to tackle the punishment head on, you'll find its a difficult task. The punishment was designed to deal with you, after all! If you're trying to directly convince your parents that you shouldn't be punished because you didn't lie, your parents are going to mentally direct that argument towards the punishment because it's designed to be resistant to appeals like that.

The alternative is to interact with your parents by going around the punishment rather than through it. This is a difficult skill, so don't be surprised if it's hard. Your goal is not to prove your innocence, but to remove the punishment. You can always prove your innocence later (as long as you haven't admitted guilt). You should look at your parents to try to figure out what sorts of things they need to feel in order to want to remove the punishment from you. This isn't a straight forward path of going to them and asking "what do I need to do to remove this punishment?" but more of a soul seeking effort to try to find something that you can do which makes it easier and easier for them to want to remove the punishment.

Look for win/wins. If you look into your parent's hearts, tell them what they want to hear, giving them the illusion of progress, it's called manipulation. But if you look into their hearts, find what they want, and then make it real, then that's called finding the higher ground. As a hint, they want to be able to trust you, and that trust has just been shattered. Acts which help them pick up the pieces and reform that trust will go a long way.

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All I can do is let you know what I would tell my kids to do.

Ask to have a chat with your parents and sit down calmly with them. Remind them that you believe you've never done anything to cause them to have an assumption of guilt -- if you had a history of lying, you could understand they would assume that you were lying in this case as well, but since you have not lied in the past, you don't know why they are assuming you are now.

In addition, you could say that you are trying to learn your way in the world and are having difficulty understanding this situation. Is this just an example of "life isn't fair; get used to it" (as I tell my kids constantly) or something else? How should you process it? Is this the new norm where your relationship is adversarial or an anomaly and you can assume that, going forward, your relationship will be more of a partnership?

The important thing to remember is that they are your parents and deserve your respect at all times but you also have the right to ask for an explanation and discussion.

Best of luck.

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Lots has been covered so all I can add is try to forgive them. They are human & sometimes they make wrong assessments. When I was about 15ish I had missed curfew by 10 minutes, which I knew was a huge deal to my parents, but I wasn't driving and I was trying to explain that I had to get home now & no one seemed to care. It was before cell phone days. So somehow my mom was cool with it & I was shocked. I apologized profusely, explained what the situation was, she accepted that, all was well.

The following week I had to go to the library for a school thing. It was close, so I walked. I checked the clock before I left making sure to give myself 10 mins for the 5 min walk as she wanted me home at a precise time because we had something to do (can't recall what, this many years later), but I do recall I walked in 2 mins late. Just 2 mins. The clocks had to be set differently from there to home, because it's a short short walk & I left a little early. I don't know why, but she lost her mind & grounded me for a whole week & this was coming up on spring break, so she took my spring break week away. Now, she says, it was a mistake. I believe her. We talked about this years ago, much closer to the timing & she confessed that she was stressed out, other things were going on, she was also going through menopause and she was catching flack from other people that she was "too easy" on me, so she overreacted. The other half of the problem is though that I reacted badly, as most kids would, because I saw how unreasonable the reaction was to being 2 mins late from the library, so she didn't feel she could pull back on the punishment because she couldn't then excuse my rude attitude that followed.

So that is why I say forgive them. Sometimes parents are bound to be wrong & that is life. You don't get to be human and be right all the time, not them & not you. I know it stinks to pay for something that you didn't really do, but chalk it up as a lesson on patience, acceptance, forgiveness & try to find a way to talk to them about feeling like they should trust you more, since you say you have no history of lying. If you want to talk to them, I'd focus the conversation on how upsetting it is to feel like they think you are a liar. Hang in there. Being a kid doesn't last forever, it just feels like it when you are there.

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