top of page

Why Teens Lie About Schoolwork and How to Teach Them Accountability

You receive an email from your daughter’s high school Science teacher.

After getting a 65% on the last test, her grade has dropped down to a C-. The teacher is graciously offering an extra credit assignment to be submitted in one week, which could bump her test grade up to 75%.

What a relief! So, you go tell her about the deal, and although she’s not as excited as you thought she would be, she agrees that she should do the assignment.

A week goes by and you get another email - your daughter did not turn in the extra credit assignment and so has missed her chance to raise her grade. You're shocked. It was only a couple of days ago that you had asked her how the assignment was going, expecting her to say ‘what assignment?’ but instead, she’d said it was fine and she was halfway done. Now, when you confront her about it, she says she didn't realize it was due today.


Have you ever had such conflicts with your kid, one that's so riddled with apathy, immaturity, or outright rebelliousness, that it leaves you wondering Why must you do things that go against your best interest? Why wouldn’t you stay on top of it? It was for your grade!

As someone that’s been in the private tutoring industry for over a decade, I’ve experienced these types of situations many times with students. For example, I once had a student that suddenly started getting 100’s on his tests, after failing all of the previous tests from that class. At first, I was proud and impressed, but when I asked him to do the easiest type of problem from the same unit, he couldn’t even do the first step, which, might I add, was typical of the skill level I had seen from him in our previous sessions. So, I started out by asking him if there was anything he’d like to tell me about his latest successes in Math, and he said no. Then, I began taking more direct approaches, but his responses still wouldn’t budge.

Behaviors like this were always so baffling to me, especially in cases where they’d know I knew the truth, and they’d still somehow attempt to defend themselves. I decided I was going to get to the bottom of why some students self sabotage and how in the world do they justify it to themselves?!

One thing about me is that I’m a real stickler about reviewing tests with my students when they get them back. Experience has taught me that old tests are where the most valuable lessons are found. By combing over old mistakes, even on the tests that students do well on, we can figure out where their thinking went wrong — like the assumptions they made, the thought processes that lead to their careless or frequently repeated errors — and that way, we can start correcting their self sabotaging test-taking habits.

My students, however, strongly dislike going over old tests. Whenever their grade comes back low, they feel too ashamed to want to look at the test again, and whenever they do well, then they don’t see the point in looking at what they did wrong. Clearly, they find it painful to face their old mistakes, almost like it’s a regret, regardless of how well they performed on the test.

This implies that, ultimately, they lie and self sabotage because their fear of facing their mistakes is greater than the fear of not improving themselves. What we want for them is to switch those two fears around, so that they fear the consequences of standing still to such a degree, that they’re willing to face their mistakes. That is what it takes to accept responsibility and hold oneself accountable.

I've uncovered a lot more about the psychology of kids with these sorts of behavior patterns and how to teach them to be self accountable, but it's a lot to take in all at once, so I put together in a 4-part Teaching Accountability email series that covers: