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Children, Parents, and Lying

Sep 07, 2010 | By Harvey Craft

Of all the problems parents have with growing children lying can be a bit unsettling. Parents must know when lying is a serious problem and when it is not.

Lying childAll children will lie. Parents must take many factors into account in determining whether or not the lying is normal or perhaps symptomatic of a serious problem. Remembering that adults lie is important, because to most adults, lying is normal. Adults lie for a variety of reasons, but most are seen as ordinary and are not due to some emotional disorder. Lying is not a mental disorder.

The first thing to be considered is age – before age five children often make up stories to fit a game they are playing or as an extension of a story book that has been read to them. Very young children are in the process of learning what reality is. They typically accept much of what they see in movies and cartoons as real.

Lying at ages seven and eight is a common way to avoid punishment or avoid an undesirable task. Lies of this type can present opportunities for parents to have meaningful discussions about honesty and family values.

Parents Can Innocently Encourage Children to Lie

Parents encourage a harmless acceptance of falsehoods when they tell tales about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and other childhood favorites. Children may have tales of their own about fictitious characters. These tales are acceptable to parents and even encouraged by the attention the tales generate. But as children grow older parents generally begin to place restrictions on some tales while continuing to accept myths about Santa. For children, to discriminate between "good lying" and "bad lying" can be confusing.

Children will often misinterpret parental lying as okay and mimic the behavior. For parents to put lies in proper perspective is essential. Truth is to be encouraged, but punishment for lying can backfire. If it is extreme children can become fearful of consequences, and fear of consequences can engender more lying.

Teenager's Lies are not Necessarily a Sign of Serious Problems

Teenager lying to parentTeenager lies are often the result of the same issues that cause adults to lie. Parents are role models, and when teens observe one reject a phone call by telling a member of the family, "If that's Grandma tell her I'm not here." They remember it and "learn" that little lies are acceptable.

Teens quickly learn that "white lies" can be used conveniently to escape from certain responsibilities or protect their newly discovered independence. Lying is a major source of social conflicts in schools, although much of it is intended to protect the innocent, many lies are used as weapons or for revenge to intentionally hurt others. Although hurtful lying is common to the point of almost being normal in schools, it is certainly a cause for concern and parents should intervene to stop it. Consequences are appropriate.

When is Lying Serious

Assuming that children are old enough to know right from wrong and that a sense of moral judgment is evident, lying consistently despite clear consequences can be symptomatic of problems. Also, recurrent lying to hurt others is potentially dangerous. When children lie to make others think of them as being smarter, richer, or in some way better than they are parents may have reason to wonder why they need to improve their social standing.

Lying is serious when it is a recognizable feature of a child's usual behavior, when it is consistent, when its consequences are possibly serious, or when it conceals illegal and/or antisocial behavior.

Parent managing a lying child

How Parents Should Deal With Lying

Prevention is best. Parents should be role models for children and be as honest with them as possible. Parents should discuss calmly and clearly the virtues of honesty and the pitfalls of lying. Honesty in children should be recognized and praised.

Do not call children "liars" and other demeaning names. Guilt and shame can have dire effects on children. Parents should remain positive and supportive of the child but opposed to the behavior. Behavior can be correctly calmly and being calm helps young children more secure and improves communication.

Lying that is clearly deceptive, evasive, and inappropriate for a child’s age should bring consequences as prescribed in an existing discipline plan which has been explained to the child in advance. Be proactive with a plan.

If lying cannot be managed at home then counseling is an option – this is especially true when teenagers are concerned. Parents should find a counselor – perhaps a child psychologist – who can perform an initial interview and make recommendations about where to go from there.

If parents want honest children, family values should be practiced that reinforce truth – watch the "white lies" and parental behavior generally. There are many children’s books about honesty – parents should read them to children. Honesty needs to be taught as a value before problems develop. Why children lie is important, as it can offer clues as to whether or not the lying for more or less accepted social reasons or symptomatic of some underlying emotional problem. If parents can’t solve the issue, counseling is an option.

About the author:
Harvey Craft
 is a retired educator and former principal, with extensive experience in teaching grades six through to twelve. He is NBPTS certified in Adolescent Science and now spends his time in educational research, consulting, and freelance writing.
Click here to contact or read more articles by Harvey Craft.

Tags : children, kids, lying, lies, parents, parenting

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