“When parents lie about their kids being a certain age so they get a cheaper price for the movies – that is a small, simple thing, but there are a lot of little examples like that, where kids see that adults fudge.”
– Dr. Tim Jordan, M.D., pediatrician
A survey by Penn State finds that 98 percent of teens say that lying is morally wrong. But in the very same survey, 98 percent say they’ve lied to their parents. Why do the same kids, who know lying is wrong, do it anyway?
“When I lie, I usually mainly lie to get out of something,” says Eric, 13.
“It’s like human nature. You can’t really stop yourself from lying sometimes,” says Annie, 12.
“I think in some cases, it’s okay. Like, I think if you don’t want to tell your parents, then that’s really none of their business,” says Caroline, 17.
Researchers at Penn State surveyed teens about lying on 36 different topics. Teens responded that they lied to their parents about 12 of these topics, including how they spent their money, what movie they went to, what they did after school, and whether they rode in cars with a drunk driver.
“I think in some ways they’re saying, ‘I need to have some secrets, I need to have some of my own private life, it’s important,’” says Dr. Tim Jordan, M.D., pediatrician.
Experts say that kids learn about lying from each other, and from adults.
“Like when parents lie about their kids being a certain age so they get a cheaper price for the movies, that is a small, simple thing, but there are a lot of little examples like that, where kids see that adults fudge,” says Jordan.
But if parents will repeat the right message over and over, says Jordan, eventually kids will learn about lying and right and wrong. In time, they’ll no longer hear just their parents’ voices, they’ll hear their own.
“I want kids to be able to think through things internally, because when they’re out in the world, that’s when they do most of their mischief,” says Jordan. “They have to have their own internal justice system established and I think that comes from inside the home, having a series of conversations over many, many years about right and wrong.”
Tips for Parents
All children lie once in a while – it’s part of growing up. Toddlers lie as a way to create their own fantasy world (i.e. “I have an imaginary friend.”); adolescents lie to re-invent themselves or to get out of trouble. Experts offer the following tips to help you talk to your children about honesty:
- Set clear expectations and strive to meet them yourself.
- Explain to the child that he will be respected more if he tells the truth than if he lies, even if the truth might make him feel uncomfortable or get him in trouble.
- Talk to children about the difference between make-believe and reality, and about alternatives to lying.
- Give children examples of why honesty is important. Show how lying has consequences.
- When a child is caught lying, talk about the consequences, how she might have acted differently, and how she should act going forward.
- Avoid browbeating and punishing when broaching the subject of dishonesty. Be firm but understanding, and let them know you expect the truth no matter what.
- If it appears that a child has a serious problem with lying, seek professional help from a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
- Help your children practice being honest so that lying is not comfortable for them and is not a part of who they are.
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry