Lie to Your Kids? Chances Are, They'll Lie and Cheat, Too

Here's another reason not to lie to our children: those who are lied to are more likely to grow up to be liars and cheaters.

I'm not talking those little white lies -- "Yes, Virginia, there's a Santa Claus," but the ones that are really damaging, like whether a child's been adopted or has a different parent than his siblings.   

“This is the first experiment confirming what we might have suspected: Lying by an adult affects a child’s honesty," quotes Leslie Carver, associate professor of psychology and human development in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. 

Experimenters had children ages three to seven listen to music coming from a toy they couldn't see.  Some of it was recognizable to the kids but a classical music piece, was not. When this music sounded, the adult left the room for 90 seconds.  The kids were explicitly told not to look for the toy. Here's the catch: some of the children had been told there was candy in a big bowl in the other room by the adult, but there was not.  Guess which kids looked, then lied about looking?

Yup. The very ones who were lied to about the candy, reports.

OK, about 60 percent of the school-aged children who had not been lied to by the experimenter peeked at the tricky temptation toy, too – and about 60 percent of the peekers lied about it later. But "among those who had been lied to, those figures rose to nearly 80 percent peeking and nearly 90 percent of the peekers lying," the Web site notes.

So what are we to make of this?  “Perhaps, “The children did not feel the need to uphold their commitment to tell the truth to someone who they perceived as a liar," researchers wrote.

Earlier research, Carver and her team member Chelsea Hays, then an undergraduate student in psychology at UC, San Diego, note that other studies have documented that the majority of parents "admit to lying to their children even as they maintain that honesty is an important value."
“The actions of parents,” Carver and Hays write, “suggest that they do not believe that the lies they tell their children will impact the child’s own honesty. The current study casts doubt on that belief.”
I try really hard not to lie to my son, especially about the big things.  We have estrangements on both my and his dad's sides of the family and yes, we're guilty of showing our anger at them to him. But we also try to tell him exactly why there are hard feelings and, even harder, not to judge.
Will this make my son a better person?  I don't know.  As a child big secrets (you might call them lies) were kept in my family, which made me only the more determined to be truthful in my life.  Do I tell white lies?  Of course I do (sorry, Phillip, for the sore throat you had when I didn't want to go to that dinner).  But truth and honesty are very important to me, and I want them to also be, for my son.


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