Have you ever seen those absolutely adorable videos of children who are caught in a lie? The ones who have chocolate smear all over their face, but deny having eaten any of it, or videos of children who have marker or god forbid, paint, all over their body or maybe even the wall, but deny having used it? Their big adorable eyes and sweet demeanor melts us as parents and we find their Pinnochio worthy performances as cute and comical.
The question I propose is…..at what age does lying elicit less hilarity and humor and more concern and consequence? At what age do we stop thinking their dishonesty is a harmless way of avoiding consequence and has actually turned into a harmful inability to accept accountability. Dare I be so bold as to say it is cause for concern at any age? Is that going too far? Maybe it is, BUT, once you learn something, it’s hard to unlearn it. And, if you learn that lying works to avoid consequences, you’ll continue to do it until it doesn’t work, right?
Before you answer that, let’s consider for a moment the world that we live in today. Where lies are as abundant as the autumn harvest. So abundant, in fact, that we wonder if anyone is ever really telling us the truth. We live in a world of “catfishing” and “fake news.” A world where it is assumed that we are provided with misinformation, that is unless we “do our own research,” right?
In all honesty...we are living in a world where lying is actually more reinforcing than telling the truth, and to reference the wildly overused quote from Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, we, “can’t handle the truth.” We literally can’t, especially if it doesn’t match the narrative that we want to believe. We aren’t looking for truths, per se, we are often looking for the answers we want to hear.
So, you may be wondering, why do I write about this? Why do I care? Well, I care because my 7 year old daughter just lied to me.
I’ll set the scene.
Me to Daughter: “It’s about time to leave for school. Have you brushed your teeth yet?”
Daughter to Me: (Without looking away from TV) “Yes.”
Me: (Internal dialogue thinking that I never saw my daughter go to the bathroom to brush teeth, so I go to bathroom where toothbrush is still in drawer and is not wet at all from water and/or toothpaste, and realizes daughter is lying to me.)
Me to Daughter: “Hey, I just want to make sure that you definitely brushed your teeth, right?”
Daughter to Me: (Still without looking away from TV) “Yes.”
Me to Daughter: “Okay, I just wanted to make sure, so I’m going to go check the toothbrush in the bathroom and I’m certain that your toothbrush is going to be wet from you having just used it to brush your teeth this morning.”
Daughter: (Seemingly instant regret as she follows me into the bathroom.)
Me: (I pull the dry toothbrush out of the drawer and daughter instantly stares at the ground.)
Me to Daughter: “Do you have anything you’d like to tell me?”
Daughter to Me: “I, I , I just forgot.”
Me to Daughter: “Don’t do that, don’t lie to me again. I need you to tell me the truth.”
This whole lying debacle resulted in my daughter getting a pretty significant consequence, and rightfully so. I didn’t just ask her once, I didn’t just ask her twice. In the prophetic words of David Rose, “I asked her thrice.”
Now, you may think that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. I mean, it’s only a little white lie, right. A mere fib, perhaps? However, too many white lies and my daughter’s teeth will eventually turn yellow.
In my opinion, (which I know holds zero bearing on anyone else’s, but) I believe we have to address them ALL. Yes, all of them, and I’d like to go a bit further as to WHY and HOW.
Unlearning something that we’ve already learned is very difficult, especially if we’ve learned and been reinforced for doing something for years and years.
Teaching our children to be truthful and transparent in their communication is such a helpful tool for success both personally and professionally.
If we can trust our children and they can trust us, I truly hope that we can reduce the tension that often accompanies the super challenging preteen and teenage years.
Don’t reward the lie. When we laugh at it or think it’s funny, we are unknowingly rewarding it. We are giving them positive attention for a negative behavior.
Reinforce honest communication. There still may be a consequence to lying, but it will be less if they come clean.
If they don’t come clean, let them know what you know to be true and what you need to do to address the situation. (Ex. I know that you did not brush your teeth, even if you aren’t admitting it. Your toothbrush is dry and it is still in the drawer. Lying to me means that you will receive (said) consequence.)
Don’t set them up for failure and create scenarios where lying is more reinforcing than being honest. (Yes, I’m talking about those videos where parents are recording their kids with candy in front of them and ask them not to eat it until the parent comes back. The lucky few who have children that actually listen, great, but most kids are going to eat the candy and then lie about it.)
Practice what you preach. We greatly minimize the impact that our own behavior has on our children. If you want them to be honest, be honest with them and with others.
I recognize that this may seem dramatic and I get it, but, consider where we are as a society and how we got there. It has become too easy to say what people want to hear and not what the actual truth is. Like any behavioral issue, it starts somewhere and these little white lies grow up to be tall tales.
I once read that the phrase “Liar Liar Pants on Fire,” derived from a story where a young boy stole one of his dad’s cigars and took it to a shed to smoke it. When his dad smelled the smoke, he went out to the shed to see where the smell was coming from. The boy quickly attempted to hide the lit cigar in his back pocket and his pants caught on fire, thus the meaning behind the phrase made popular by many children today.
So, in order to prevent parental “fires” caused by lying, let’s throw some water on all the ways in which we, as parents, stoke the flame.
This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.