The best way to get folks talking on a Facebook page is to ask them a provocative question, and this morning, I knew this query from our friends at Big City Moms would be a conversation-starter:
“What is one white lie you always tell your child?”
There are a variety of reasons why parents might fudge the truth a little when talking to little ones: for instance, your toddler might be in that “why?” stage, or it a white lie might be the easiest way to get them to stop asking for a treat, or it might be the easiest way to get them to eat something that they don’t want to. A study from the International Journal of Psychology found that 84% of parents admitted to lying to their kids in order to improve their behavior, so if you’re in the habit, you’re definitely not alone.
Is it ethical to lie to kids? Well, that depends who you ask, and the answers really are all over the place: for instance, in one Google search, I found an article that advised lying to kids about Santa Claus and another one that advised against lying to kids about Santa Claus back to back.
So, like many parenting decisions (such as, for instance, whether to let your kid win at games), this one is your call. Here, however, are some of the pros and cons.
1) Tantrums REALLY suck, and sometimes a simple diversion is the best way to avoid them when kids don’t have the maturity to handle you just saying “no.”
2) Sometimes it’s necessary to be evasive or even downright dishonest in order to avoid hurting people’s feelings. As Michael Lewis, Ph.D. points out in this article at Parenting.com, “there’s a whole set of social rules that require you to be less than honest.” Kids are going to need to learn this basic etiquette for a variety of social situations – say, for instance, if Great-Aunt Gladys gives them a really ugly sweater for their birthday and will be very hurt if they don’t say that they love it.
3) Sometimes kids aren’t prepared for a real explanation for, why, for instance, their pet bunny Matata disappeared. Do you feel prepared to explain the circle of life to your kid, and is he ready for it? If not, you’re going to need a way to put this one off.
1) They may trust you less. As Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry points out in his article opposing the Santa Claus myth, “From the parents’ purely self-interested perspective, the Santa lie is just dumb parenting. First of all, it erodes your trust capital. Once your kids discover that you were actively lying to them for several years, how much do you think they’ll trust you?”
2) You may wind up avoiding the really big conversations. Dr. Peggy Drexler points out,
“Lying can help parents avoid, quite simply, parenting — or, at the very least, difficult conversations. It can stand in the way of valuable bonding moments. For example: Teaching children about serious subjects like death, sex, relationships, and love are some of the most challenging, but also most fulfilling, aspects of parenting when approached with a child’s age and maturity level in mind. Telling a four-year-old that her dog has died is a difficult, but appropriate, conversation. Telling her that her dog died after getting into a fight with a coyote can also be okay, so long as you make clear that she’s not in any danger herself and perhaps use it as a chance to talk about the dynamics of animals in nature. Telling her that her dog died because you accidentally left the back door open, and that when you found him, he was torn to bits — not information she needs to know.”
3) You may be teaching them that lying is ok. A study at the University of California found that 5, 6, and 7-year-old kids who were lied to by researchers were more likely to lie themselves. However, the study didn’t make it clear whether the kids were making a general ethical judgment or reacting to the individual behavior of the researchers: “It could be the five- to seven-year-old children were simply imitating the behaviour modeled by the adult, or it could be they were making judgments about the importance of honesty to this adult,” according to Professor Leslie Carver.
So now we’ll throw it to you: do you ever lie to your kids? Do you feel ok about it? Where do you draw the line in terms of honesty?