Anyone who knows me knows that I’m very passionate about honesty. So parenting has been a bit challenging at times. I’ve had to accept that sometimes complete honesty isn’t an option. Like most homes with kids, there are certain untruths that are not only accepted but uttered often: ones about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and “no, there is no more chocolate in the house”.
Despite our predilection for fiction we expect our children to be scrupulously honest but new research will break your parenting heart.
It seems that not only do our kids start lying a lot earlier than we thought, we are actually all terrible at telling when they do. The study showed that at age two only 30 per cent of kids lie but it grew to 50 per cent at three and passes the 80 per cent mark before their fourth birthday.
Don’t panic. The head scientist assures that it’s perfectly normal and indeed he’s more concerned with the kids that aren’t indulging in untruths around age five. Apparently it’s part of the maturing process with kids exploring their skills and their abilities to manipulate the environment. And he points out the skills involved in lying – theory of mind and self-control of expression – are essential to function well in society and a lack of them often points to developmental problems.
“So if you discover your two-year-old is telling his or her first lie, instead of being alarmed, you should celebrate.”
I know he meant that to reassure us but it’s as comforting as Donald Trump at a tolerance rally. Or in a political conversation at all. Because it turns out we don’t even know when we need to ‘celebrate’ the ‘landmark’ because we truly suck at detecting dishonesty. The study showed that regardless of occupation (and they tested jobs that deal with dishonesty regularly such as judges, childcare workers, police officers etc) nearly every adult detected the dishonesty less than half the time. Even parents were just over 50 per cent.
To put that in perspective, tossing a coin for yes or no would be just as accurate as we are now. Once I thought about it I realised I used to be able to tell – after all, Rhapsody had a lying smile I used to make fun of when she used it. But in retrospect all I was doing by pointing it out was training her to lie better. And we have to be honest – we’re teaching them to lie. Even outside of the previously mentioned fictitious characters, look at how we actively encourage dishonest behaviour. No kid has ever liked receiving socks or a jumper for their birthday but we still make them thank Nana.
And forcing a child to say sorry when they’re not truly remorseful might be an attempt at teaching them to make amends but if they’re not genuine we’re simply teaching them to make the problem go away with an insincere apology. Hmmm. Exactly who is it that can’t handle the truth? Maybe it’s us as parents?