Most parents 'lie to their children'

 

People share some of lies they have told, or been told while growing up

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Most parents tell lies to their children as a tactic to change their behaviour, suggests a study of families in the United States and China.

The most frequent example was parents threatening to leave children alone in public unless they behaved.

Persuasion ranged from invoking the support of the tooth fairy to telling children they would go blind unless they ate particular vegetables.

Another strategic example was: "That was beautiful piano playing."

The study, published in the International Journal of Psychology, examined the use of "instrumental lying" - and found that such tactically-deployed falsehoods were used by an overwhelming majority of parents in both the United States and China - based on interviews with about 200 families.

'I'll buy it next time'

The most commonly used lie - popular with both US and Chinese families - was parents pretending to a child that they were going to walk away and leave the child to his or her tantrum.

"The pervasiveness of this lie may relate to the universality of the challenge parents face in trying to leave a place against their child's wishes," say the researchers.

Another lie that was common in both countries was the "false promise to buy a requested toy at some indefinite time in the future".

Start Quote

Your pet went to live on your uncle's farm where he will have more space to run around”

End Quote Well-intentioned or immoral? An example of what parents told their children

Researchers established different categories of these untruths.

There were "untrue statements related to misbehaviour", which included: ''If you don't behave, I will call the police," and: "If you don't quiet down and start behaving, the lady over there will be angry with you.''

If these seem rather unheroic examples of parenting by proxy threat, there are some more startling lies recorded.

Under the category of "Untrue statements related to leaving or staying" a parent was recorded as saying: "If you don't follow me, a kidnapper will come to kidnap you while I'm gone."

There were also lies motivated by protecting a child's feelings - labelled as "Untrue statements related to positive feelings."

This included the optimistic: "Your pet went to live on your uncle's farm where he will have more space to run around."

A rather self-serving untruth was used for a quick getaway from a toy shop: ''I did not bring money with me today. We can come back another day."

There was also a selection of lies relating to "fantasy characters", also used to enforce good behaviour, such as in the run-up to Christmas.

'Broccoli makes you taller'

The study found no clear difference between the lies used by mothers and fathers, according to researchers, who were from psychology departments at the University of California San Diego in the US, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua in China and the University of Toronto, Canada.

Tooth fairy The tooth fairy, bringing wishes to stressed parents

Although levels of such "instrumental lying" were high in both countries, they were highest in China.

The study found there was an acceptance of such lies among parents when they were used as a way of reinforcing desirable social behaviour.

For example, the lie told to children that they would grow taller for every bite of broccoli was seen as encouraging healthy eating habits.

The study raises the longer-term issue of the impact on families of such opportunistic approaches to the truth. It suggests it could influence family relationships as children get older.

The researchers, headed by Gail D. Heymana, Anna S. Hsua, Genyue Fub and Kang Leeac, concluded that this raises "important moral questions for parents about when, if ever, parental lying is justified".

 

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  • rate this
    +24

    Comment number 253.

    Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny etc isnt lying really, more about creating some magic and fun for children. I have never shielded my children from the stark realities or truths of life altho i've tried to tell them in ways they will understand. As long as your attempts make your child think then it's all good. Some people dont give their kids enough credit and mine often surprise me.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 189.

    This topic is universally true that certain truths are carefully repackaged for the benefit of managing our children. In Nigeria we do tell our children some lies to make them behave the way we wish. Otherwise telling a child he cannot have a toy that cost the same as his school fees is a waste of time!

  • rate this
    +36

    Comment number 100.

    This article strikes a chord as I've always tried to be honest with my daughter. There's no need to use outlandish claims or hollow threats - when we want the behaviour to change it's for a reason that can be explained.

    When she was 3 and wanted to watch cBeebies grandma automatically lied "it's finished today". I would say "no you can't, because the grown-ups don't want the telly on now."

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 98.

    Christmas wouldn't have been half as much fun as a kid if you weren't sat up late trying to hear the bells on Father Christmas' sledge!
    Father Christmas left presents every year, and the tooth fairy put in appropriate appearances...but I did used to wonder why the Easter Bunny was rather unreliable!
    But I've always known my pets went into a hole in the ground in our garden.

  • rate this
    +54

    Comment number 72.

    I wonder how the number of parents lying to children compares to the number of children lying to parents?

    It wasn't me!

 

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