Parents Lie to Their Children Extremely Often

The conclusion belongs to a new study

By on September 29th, 2009 18:01 GMT
According to a new scientific investigation, mothers and fathers distort the knowledge they pass on to their children considerably and systematically. And we're not talking about religious indoctrination here, which parents practice willingly, but about stretching the “truth” to extensive lengths. The paper reveals that, oftentimes, the adults come up with all sorts of methods to instill certain behaviors in their children, and invent things from mythical animals to peculiar consequences for certain actions.

“We are surprised by how often parenting by lying takes place. Our findings showed that even the parents who most strongly promoted the importance of honesty with their children engaged in parenting by lying,” Kang Lee, who has been a researcher on the new study, says. The scientist holds an appointment at the University of Toronto, in Canada. It seems a bit ironic, psychologists say, that the individuals who want to make their children grow to be honest adults would use lying of all things to do that. And lying to children may not be as harmless as parents believe.

According to Lee and the UT science team behind the investigation, it may be that such excessive lying sends mixed messages to the children, who are simply trying to understand how to navigate the social world at young ages. University of California in San Diego (UCSD) study researcher Gail Heyman adds that the lies could harm the parent-child relationship in the long-run. The team says that these results are just preliminary, and that more research into this little-studied matter is needed before clearer conclusions can be drawn.

“If I am always lying to the child in order to get the child to do X, Y, or Z, then they have never learned why they should do X, Y, or Z. If it's constantly being used, [lying] may be preventing learning opportunities for the child,” expert Victoria Talwar, from the McGill University, in Montreal, Canada, who has not been involved with the current research, adds.

“Children sometimes behave in ways that are disruptive or are likely to harm their long-term interests. It is common for parents to try out a range of strategies, including lying, to gain compliance. When parents are juggling the demands of getting through the day, concerns about possible long-term negative consequences to children's beliefs about honesty are not necessarily at the forefront,” Heyman concludes, quoted by LiveScience.