Thursday, October 1, 2009

Parenting by lying: Where do you draw the line?

Parents have long rated honesty as the top trait they hope to teach their kids. But when the child loses a tooth or is late for school, the parents are the ones putting bicuspids under pillows for fairies or coming up with convincing excuses for teachers.

So, is lying learned behavior -- and are we the ones teaching it to our kids?

Over at Child Caring, I'm wondering where parents should draw the line between fact and fiction. Children lie for a variety of reasons: To get out of trouble, to get what they want, to get attention. While parents may lie to other adults for the same reasons, a new study shows that they tend to lie to their kids to make them feel good or to change their behavior.

"We are surprised by how often parenting by lying takes place," researcher Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, Canada, told Yahoo. "Our findings showed that even the parents who most strongly promoted the importance of honesty with their children engaged in parenting by lying."

"Parenting by lying" ranges from telling tall tales (about the tooth fairy, for example), to fibbing ("Tommy, what a beautiful drawing!") to manipulation in order to change behavior ("If you don't clean your room, I'm going to give away all of your stuff.") It might work in the short term, but in the long run, research suggests, lying could harm parent-child bonds or prevent children from learning. "If I am always lying to the child in order to get the child to do X, Y, or Z, then they have never learned why they should do X, Y, or Z," Victoria Talwar of McGill University in Montreal points out.

Is it appropriate to teach kids that some kinds of lying is OK? Or should we still be shooting for "honesty is the best policy"?

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