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Why do we lie to our children?
Not everyone does.
The excuses parents cite to justify lying to children are fairly simple. Sometimes parents lie because they don’t want to hurt a child’s feelings. Sometimes they lie to protect their children from truths they are not old enough to handle. And sometimes they lie simply to avoid embarrassing themselves.
I have heard some parents claim they absolutely must lie to avoid hurting the kids. But for the most part, lying represents nothing more than an easy way out, the lazy parent’s alternative to actually measuring their words or thinking about what they say.
Admittedly, some lessons are painful to learn. But in the long run, hurt feelings can often be less painful than a lie. How many parents have told their daughters that the mud pie they sculpted looked beautiful, then ended up with a kitchen full of similar masterworks? Moving forward a few years for an older child, once you can tell that a boy has absolutely no athleticism and poor reflexes, are you helping him if you respond “yes” when he asks if you think he can play professional baseball?
If you take a moment to consider your answer, you can often tell the truth without causing pain. And in many cases, the truth simply needs to be told, even if it hurts feelings. The job of parent is not the same as the job of friend, and parents must do what best serves the child, even if it means that they may take some undeserved heat or feel bad about delivering the difficult news.
When parents lie about their own mistakes, or to avoid embarrassment, they cheapen themselves in the eyes of their children. Often kids know the truth, or will find it out. If you lie to avoid embarrassment, you teach your children that putting on a good front is more important than truthfulness. Is that the lesson you wish to impart?
Concerns about kids being ready to hear the whole truth are certainly legitimate. Sometimes a small child may not be prepared for the news that his uncle committed suicide or the gory details about how babies are conceived. But rather than lie outright, like saying that the uncle died in a car wreck or blaming the kid’s new baby brother on a visit from a stork, a parent can use a little discretion and creativity to tell part of the story and leave the rest for later. At times, you’ll have to dodge a question or simply provide the unsatisfying response of, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” Nobody likes that answer, but it’s better than a lie, for three reasons.
* First, if you lie about something little, a child could easily extrapolate that conduct into a belief that you’ll like about something big. Too many children find reasons to distrust their parents without any outside assistance. Don’t make that leap easier.
* Second, if you lie, you teach your child that it’s OK to deceive family members if you have a good reason. Children have “good reasons” for just about anything, and it doesn’t take much for a parent’s lie to become blanket permission for kids to lie about everything from why they didn’t finish their homework to where they spent the night.
* Third, lying is unethical. Perhaps this sounds parochial, but ask yourself this question: “If conduct wouldn’t be acceptable in a discussion with your spouse, the owner of the company where you work, or your pastor, why is it acceptable with your children?” Or with anyone else, for that matter. Most parents try to instill an ethical and moral code in their children. Lying both complicates those lessons and costs parents valuable credibility.
Thank you for reading today’s Q&A. Check back here tomorrow for another installment of the Ask The Dad advice column. If you’d like to submit an Ask The Dad question, send it to email@example.com.