Opinion: Lying parents

POSTED: 01/24/13 10:29 AM

We appreciate it when our children speak the truth, but Chinese and American research shows that too many parents are giving their kids the wrong example. Parent lie to their children on a regular basis. The most popular lie among parents is this one: they pretend to walk away from their child when it is in the middle of an outburst of anger.

Researchers interviewed two-hundred families in the United States and in China. In general it appeared that parents use lies as a tactic to change their children’s behavior.

The researchers distinguished several categories of lies. Lies related to bad behavior for instance go like this: “If you don’t behave I am going to call the police”; or: “If you don’t stop screaming, that woman over there is going to get very mad at you.”

Another category is about lies related to leaving or staying, like: If you are not coming with me now, a kidnapper will take you when I am not around.”

In the more optimistic category of lies related to positive feelings, the researchers found this example, designed to comfort a child after the death of a pet: “Our dog is now living at your uncle’s farm, because he has much more space to run around there.”

Lies related to fantasy-characters are often used to stimulate good behavior, for instance in the run-up to Christmas, or statement like, “Eat your vegetables otherwise the tooth fairy won’t visit you.”

The researchers conclude that the results pose an important moral question: is it justified for parent to lie?

Hmm, that’s a good one. Experience shows that children copy their parents’ behavior. And don’t think that kids are stupid or ignorant: they are quite capable of finding out real fast whether their parents are speaking the truth or that they are telling them a story.

So the result of all these – sometimes well-intended – lies is that kids start lying too. We see this all the time in our own courtroom, where young defendants go into a standard mode of deny, deny, deny – no matter what evidence is presented to them. Further down the road, the lying continues in relationships, at home, at work, and especially in politics.

So now we know where all those lies come from: our parents did it. They showed us the way. It is up to today’s parents to change their ways and to tell their children the truth – at all times. Only then will we one day arrive at a situation where lying becomes the exception instead of the rule.

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