Most parents like to think of their children as angels. “My child never lies,” is a statement that is reiterated and believed by many parents. It usually comes as a huge surprise when parents discover that their children are after all human and do lie. It is within human nature to lie, and research shows that lying even to one’s parents, is a natural and important part of growing up. However at what point is lying a normal part of the growing up process and when is there a need to show concern.
Arnold Goldberg, a professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago says that “Lying is as much a part of normal growth and development as telling the truth, the ability to lie is a human achievement, one of those achievements that tends to set them apart from all other species.”
Psychiatrists see lying as pathological when it is so destructive it affects the liar’s life and those to whom they lie, writes Daniel Goldman in his New York Times post, Lies Can Point to Mental Disorders or Signal Normal Growth.
Research shows that infants start misleading their parents very early in life. Infants mislead their parents through fake cries, concealing mistakes, and pretending to be injured, just to name a few.
Between the ages of two to three, children start lying when they break established rules and by age five children get quite adept at being able to successfully lie to others. Not only are children predisposed to using deception, but more often than not, children learn this behaviour at home and socialising with others.
Children watch their parents lie and they are explicitly taught to lie by their parents; what we call white lies. It is a social skill that has to be mastered, for positive social interaction, as it is intrinsically linked with good manners and a good upbringing.
According to Daniel Goldman, children lie for the same reasons adults do: to avoid punishment, get something they want or make excuses for themselves. However, preteen-agers usually have not yet learned to tell the white lies of adults, which work as social lubricants or to soothe another’s feelings, researchers say. Those with higher IQs are more likely to use deception.
As children grow up, deceptive behavior tends to get worse, especially during the teenage years, when children are trying to assert their independence. To make matters more complicated, teenagers tend to put rewards ahead of risks, causing them to act more carelessly and often more deceptively than adults would like.
While there is no one full proof method to deal with lying, if you discover that your child is lying stay calm. Talk to your child about the underlying issue and try to get the whole picture, remind them that you value honesty in your relationship with them. Have consequences that correspond with the child’s age and type of lie. On the other hand, if you are dealing with a child who lies even when there is no reason to lie, or a child who is constantly putting themselves at risk, seeking out professional help may be the wisest course of action.
Till next time…
Further resources: Children and Lying