Are We Teaching Our Children to Lie?

One day after school, our youngest son seemed fidgety. I could tell something was wrong, but when I asked him, he said it was nothing.  Finally, after staring at the TV for an hour or so, he meekly said, “Mom, I have to tell you something.” His face was tense, and his eyes were sad.

One day after school, our youngest son seemed fidgety. I could tell something was wrong, but when I asked him, he said it was nothing.  Finally, after staring at the TV for an hour or so, he meekly said, "Mom, I have to tell you something." His face was tense, and his eyes were sad. I put everything aside and...

I put everything aside and gave him my full attention while he stuttered out his words. “The teacher sent you a note home,” he said. I asked to see the note. The teacher had written that he had not turned in his homework, but the note was dated a week earlier.

I asked him why he had not given me the note when he first received it, and he said he knew he would get in trouble. Then, after talking about his homework and the importance of trusting us with bad news, I asked him why he had decided to give me the note since the teacher had not followed up. His words were profound to me, and I have never forgotten them.

“I knew I was lying to you, Mom,” he said, “and I knew that would damage me.” I asked him what he meant by “damage?”  He explained that he knew that lying to us would damage our relationship, and he did not want that because he always wanted to feel close.

I think of that conversation a lot. Our son was about 10 or 11 when this happened.  He was old enough to understand truth and consequences. He understood that his action would require a consequence. Lying would separate him from a peaceful relationship with his parents.

We know that lying destroys trust, hurting both parties in the process. Whether it is keeping secrets or telling a little white lie, lying destroys one of the fundamental pillars of a healthy relationship ? trust. … Lies not only grow, but they tend to become addictive, especially if you have gotten away with a few already.

Do parents encourage their children to lie? Maybe they see we are upset.  When they ask us if everything is all right, we don’t want to upset them, so we assure them that all is well. In turn, when our children are upset or dealing with a problem, they have learned from us that they should keep it inside and not talk about it.

This can cause even greater problems than the initial thing that upset them. What if they see us lie?  Let’s say we tell them to answer the phone and say we are not home when indeed we are.  Are we teaching them to lie? Children take their cue from their parents. Later, when the child asks us to do the same for them, we may say, “Of course, you’re home.”

Parents teach truth-telling by telling the truth themselves. Encouraging truth-telling is more effective than punishing dishonest behavior.

Another time when our son was about 15, he went to the mall with some friends.  They all decided to see if they could steal something and get away with it. When he came home, I asked him where he got his new pants and shirt.

Once again, he told the truth, and I had to decide the consequences. It was challenging.  I had worked all day, it was late, and I was tired, but I drove him back to the mall and made him return the items. Then we went to visit the other parents. The boys assured their parents that they had not stolen anything, and the parents decided it was easier to believe them than to check it out.

If a child is caught in a lie and suffers no consequence, he assumes it is OK with the parents to do wrong. A good book for parents to read is I Didn’t Do It by Elaine McEwan. According to McEwan, we don’t need to dishearten the child by ferreting out every bit of untruth.

She writes that this kind of authoritarian approach often pushes the child to become a chronic liar. She says another wrong way to deal with lying in a child is making the repercussions so great that your child will lie rather than face them. For example, if you tell your child or teenager that you will disown them if they mess up, they will lie. This is because the consequences may be too frightening for them to face.

We all know it's a goal of ours as parents to teach our kids honesty. But here's the ultimate goal: The goal isn't to keep our kids from lying. Our goal is to help our kids feel safe enough to tell the truth.

 


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Deana Landers
Author for Morningcoffeebeans.com

I have had many roles in life
Pastor’s Wife , Mom/Nana , Nurse/Health Educator, Writer , Christian Speaker
I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing stories, either in my head or in my journal.

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