In a perfect world, there would never be reasons for our kids to lie. Lying, whether white, black or gray, wouldn’t be a concern in our parenting. Honesty and integrity would be at the forefront of our day-to-day values. The truth is, while I don’t want my kids to think it is acceptable to lie, our society isn’t so clear-cut when it comes to expectations of honesty.
Like many aspects of parenting, asking my children not to lie always makes me reflect on my own behavior. Are “little white lies” okay in certain circumstances? Is withholding information also considered lying? Am I reflecting the values I am asking my children to live by, and the realities of their worlds? Lies happen all the time, and while I value honesty, I don’t want to criminalize this behavior simply on principle.
So here’s the question: Is it ever okay to lie?
The way I see it, there are two types of lies: lies that benefit the liar, and lies that benefit someone else. As parents and a society, we embrace the holidays with expectation that Santa stories benefit our children by sparking their imaginations and creating a sense of wonder (lies). In similar fashion, the Easter bunny (lie) and Tooth Fairy (more lies) all visit our kids to celebrate milestones, ease fears, or usher in new experiences. These all help our kids, right?
Well what about this? Sometimes lying (or withholding truths) can be an appropriate measure when teaching young kids to socialize and make friends. At times, I prompt my child to keep her opinions (truths) to herself and parent according to “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As children mature, this generalized parenting philosophy is elaborated to include methods of positive communication and self expression, but when they’re young, telling Sally that she stinks (regardless if she does or not) is not kind or beneficial to my child’s socialization skills. Maybe it’s a white lie, but I instruct my child to not say everything she feels… even if her statements are truths.
As parents, we should also remember that lying is actually a developmental milestone and is viewed by many to be a sign of intelligence. Kids’ brains are hardwired to lie. It’s part of their developing social skills, just like their first smiles. Fortunately, we have the opportunities to teach our kids how to be honest in a white lie world. While my husband and I will always encourage honesty and integrity, we won’t criminalize lying either. Keeping in mind our natural tendencies to fib, understanding the motive and focusing on the consequences of a lie help us parent our children to be honest in a world where many people, even their parents, tell lies.