Lying to kids: Used for behavior issues but what’s the long term consequence?

Yep. Many do this but to what extent and to what ends?

Most parents ‘lie to their children’.

Most parents tell lies to their children as a tactic to change their behaviour, suggests a study of families in the United States and China.

The study, published in the International Journal of Psychology, examined the use of “instrumental lying” – and found that such tactically-deployed falsehoods were used by an overwhelming majority of parents in both the United States and China – based on interviews with about 200 families.

The most commonly used lie – popular with both US and Chinese families – was parents pretending to a child that they were going to walk away and leave the child to his or her tantrum.

“The pervasiveness of this lie may relate to the universality of the challenge parents face in trying to leave a place against their child’s wishes,” say the researchers.

Although levels of such “instrumental lying” were high in both countries, they were highest in China.

The study found there was an acceptance of such lies among parents when they were used as a way of reinforcing desirable social behaviour.

The researchers, headed by Gail D. Heymana, Anna S. Hsua, Genyue Fub and Kang Leeac, concluded that this raises “important moral questions for parents about when, if ever, parental lying is justified”.

Here is link to the original paper.

The results of this study are disturbing. As a rational parent, I disagree with these tactics. I try to promote thinking, examining the situation and making the best decision. So, I can not condone making up a story in order to get the desired behavior. It’s a bribe, a deception which undermines the relationship you have with your child and their future behavior and trust.

For example, a child wants a toy in a store that you don’t wish to buy. Why lie and say “not now, some other time” when there will be no other time? Tell the truth. You don’t need that, we can’t afford it, it’s not good for you. And explain why. That teaches a child real life lessons. And it also helps prevent further bad behavior the next time.

Also, how about teaching social manners properly instead of coercing with lies. A tantrum or other improper behavior should be discouraged for its own worth, not just to make things easier for the parent. Remove the child and explain clearly what the issue is that you have with the behavior. Again, teach the child real life lessons. It pays dividends sooner AND later.

I never have told my kids intentional lies. Skeptics are rather averse to telling tales of heaven, monsters or Santa Claus as real. If there was something I wanted to avoid, I explained I would NOT tell them about it at that moment but did not substitute the non-truth.  It’s neither fair nor helpful to substitute a convenient lie for the harsh truth, especially when it comes to your kids. Kids don’t need anymore myths and lies in their lives, there is enough on television and all around them. Teach them how to evaluate the real world in a fair way, not a fantasy one. That will serve them all their lives.

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  8 comments for “Lying to kids: Used for behavior issues but what’s the long term consequence?

  1. Mr. Shreck
    January 24, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    Lying undermines trust. How much more obvious could it be? We have been committed from birth to not lying to the Shrecklets, particularly on those “hard questions” that so often make life interesting for parents. From the beginning, there has been a companion lecture about not sharing this information with friends because not all parents are so forthcoming.

  2. January 24, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    I’m also bothered by the idea of lying to a child in order to manipulate her behavior. I do wonder how often I do it without realizing, or what technically non-lying parental tactics of mine fall into the same strategic and moral category. (I *do* sometimes walk away and leave my son to his tantrum, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be giving a false impression as to my intent.)

  3. RDW
    January 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    I’m pretty sure Steve Allen wrote some good books on this subject that would be available from Prometheus Books. I’m not a parent, but I still have strong opinions on parenting, sort of, and have concluded that it’s getting tougher to be a descent parent because so many of the people who have children aren’t capable of doing the job, and don’t really care. Perfect honesty with a child might involve having to point from class-mate to class-mate and describing all sorts of distasteful things if they were to hang out with them. A lot of people are predators at their core, and that’s the case with many kids, too. Very few people, if any, are going to care about your kids as much as you do, and many people might wish to make them into less happy little persons, if it suited their immediate needs. I’d think, ideally, Honesty is the best policy, but sometimes Honesty and Reality is very ugly.

  4. January 24, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    The article includes as lying telling a child that a lie to reinforce their emotional well-being –“That was beautiful piano playing,” when the playing was terrible.”

    Most of the other lies I have never done, but if my son spend an hour drawing a dragon and presents it to me proudly and it looks like crap, I’m probably going to tell him its a very nice picture of a dragon to encourage his artistic endeavors…though I may make some suggestions, etc.

    • Andrew
      January 24, 2013 at 1:37 PM

      Same here. That’s why somehow a study like this needs to be done in conjuction with a study on the long term impacts of the various parental lies.

  5. January 24, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    In the Dragon Picture situation are you really lying? It may look like crap if it was drawn by an adult, but as an effort from a child learning hand eye coordination it is probably very good and imaginative. You should not feel you are lying to them, when they put forward a good effort.

  6. January 24, 2013 at 5:01 PM

    Even if the picture looks like crap, why not praise the endeavor? “Wow! You worked really hard on that. You really have stick-to-it-ness! Good job!” Or something along those lines.

    Also, if the kid wasn’t ready to hear the truth about something that was above her “age-grade”, I didn’t substitute a lie. I told her “You aren’t old enough to understand that right now, but I promise to tell you when you are older.”

  7. Chris Howard
    January 24, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    I wonder of God(s)/the supernatural fit the definition of a lie? I suppose it hinges upon intent, but that can’t be right? Good intent road to Hell and all that.

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