WHY PARENTS LIE TO THEIR CHILDREN
Lying to your Kids!
IS IT INEVITABLE FOR PARENTS TO LIE TO THEIR CHILDREN?
IS IT INEVITABLE FOR PARENTS TO LIE TO THEIR CHILDREN?
One summer afternoon, as I was taking a walk with my family at the park in Down Town Minneapolis Minnesota, a little girl of about six years old attracted the attention of passers-by when she came up to an elderly woman , probably in her seventies and spoke to her angrily.
“Why do mums lie? My mum lied to me this morning” she said. “Why did she even lie about little things? Why?”
As the elderly woman opened her mouth to say something to the little princess, she stopped her by raising her little right hand;
“No! Don’t answer that! I mean, why do all moms lie? Did you lie to your children? Do you have grand children too?”
Everyone who heard her were puzzled. We could not help but notice the look on the face of the young woman standing nearby. From the resemblance, one could tell she was the mother of the upset little girl.
“Am so sorry” she said to the lady. “Ann, you need to stop! Okay?” She continued in a louder voice to her daughter. “You are creating a scene and we need to leave now.” She snapped, holding her tightly on her arms.
“I just want parents to stop lying to their children” Ann answered with a frown on her beautiful face while trying to break free from her mom’s strong grip. But the woman insisted and led her away to the parking lot. They got into the car and drove off.
I watched their car fade into distance, but those moments raised a lot of questions in my mind about why parents lie to their children.
Many parents (if not all) lie to their children on many occasions and for various reasons. This article exist to examine those reasons, some of the effects on both the children and their parents, and how to avoid some situations, or worse, remedy some of them. The article does not claim to provide a panacea for the issue, but to bring to consciousness the fact that this is important and may have been a source of problem in our families and society at large.
I have worked with, and passionately taught children of various ages, both in the religious settings and in the educational sector. Most of the children are really intelligent, emotional and sensitive to their families and environment. They all need someone to love and to trust. And in a more balanced world, the parents or guardians are supposed to be the first people they can love and trust as well.
So, in order to better understand why parents lie and the effect it has on their children, I have conducted series of interviews with different parents and teenage kids, because they are at the most sensitive stage of life. In order to first understand from the parental point of view, I have summed up the following reasons drawn from the interviews with some parents:
1. To Protect Them: This is usually the most common reasons of all. Parents, try to protect their children from painful and distressful facts of life.
For instance, when a little girl ask her dad;
“Why do the kids in my class hate me? They won’t play with me, and when I try to talk to them, they just laugh at me”
That dad will never want to hurt his daughter’s feelings by telling her, “Everyone can’t love you. That is just the way the world is wired. Most people may not want to be your friend or like your jokes.”
Instead, he will help his daughter’s self-esteem and keep her loved for as long as he can by saying:
“Oh honey, they do that because they can’t just see how amazing you are. They are yet to see that you are the best thing that can happen to them.” While, she may never witness being ‘the best thing’ happening to those kids, she will at least go to bed happy believing she is special, and someday will find great friends who would love her. Most parents also lie to protect their children from distressing realities surrounding their family, especially marital problems. They paint marriage as being perfect by wearing ‘screen savers’ on their faces with a constant smile to say ‘everything is okay’. They may be trying to protect their children, but more so, they fear the children would be disappointed in them if they uncovered he truth.
2. . To help them change their behavior: This works a lot on younger kids. Parents lie when they make promises to help a child change his ways, or make up stories of horrible and scary things that happened to kids who refused to make good choices.
3. Because it’s easier: Lying helps parents avoid engaging in ‘difficult’ conversations about serious subjects like love and sex, relationships, death, divorce and others.
4. To keep the tradition: One mum simply said: “that’s what I was always told by my parents. Why would theirs have to be different?”
They are just passing on the only parenting skills they know – lying!
5. To stay in power or exercise authority over their children: They believe they can say whatever they wish to their children; who in turn, have no right to question what they are being told.
One parent clearly said to me: “I am the parent and he is the kid. Am always right and he has no right to question whatever I say or do.”
There are some common lies Parents tell their children in the name of protecting and acting according to their best interest including making light of really serious situation by telling their children “its okay. That’s no problem at all!” as mentioned earlier, and lies about sex and relationships. Curiosity and questions about sexual intimacy starts coming up in the mind of a young child, even before the age of six. Most parents find it difficult to be upfront with their kids on matters regarding sex and relationships. They make a monster out of the experience to scare them, or make light of it. As a result, these children often get their answers from the wrong sources or learn the bitter way.
Parents also lie about difficult issues like bankruptcy, illness, crime, and death. The majority of the parents I talked to said they lie to protect them from these distressing realities. If you don’t talk to them about the difficult stuff, they worry alone. A similar writer once gave an example, saying:
“Think about it, she learned I had cancer, within days I was hospitalized. I went bald, lost weight, looked sick and exhausted; my right arm was covered in bruises from the intravenous infusions. She had seen my sister in a similar condition a few months before she died.”
Another parent said: “We didn’t tell because she didn’t ask.”
But the truth is that she didn’t ask because she sensed that it was a difficult subject. Yet, protecting her from what was going on turned out to be a gross underestimation of the child’s ability to measure atmosphere, to absorb pain and doubt. So they worry and convert it into a perfectly reasonable but wrong explanation. That’s danger lurking.
Parents tend to tell self-aggrandizing lies, exaggerating facts about their jobs, careers, social status, financial status and past grades, probably because they would love to stay as their children’s hero, or fear they will thread the same path.
Another common lie is that of making promises they have no intention of keeping, but making their child corporate on a certain issue. The victims of these kind of lies are usually the younger kids between the ages of two and six. But from experience, I have come to discover that, though the child in question may not be able to judge the parent or understand why they could not keep their promise, they do remember.
I will call this one the ‘I don’t know syndrome’. Many parents use it as a quick escape from answering uncomfortable questions, saving time, or avoiding further questions.
In another form of exaggeration, parents take some facts and blow them out of proportion. For example:
“If you don’t make good grades, you will never be rich and you will end up on the streets begging for alms.”
When I first approached puberty, my mum once said to me,
“If you talk to boys or let them hold your hands, you will become pregnant, and never be able to go to school.”
Another example is: “If you talk to strangers, you will get kidnapped.”
Children take exaggeration as serious as they take lies. They can be very damaging too.
During my survey, some parents claimed they never lied to their children, others detested the word “lie”. They think it’s an unfair word for what they said or did ‘for good reasons and for the best interest of their children.’ Some might give it a parenting name like ‘safety measures’.
Amongst the parents that were interviewed, only one mom clearly admitted to lying to her children:
“…and am not proud of it.” She said.
Explaining some intricacies of life to a child can be tedious. It can be compared to explaining the meaning of the internet or computer to a local grandparent in my village. Some parents have therefore, decided to bypass those tedious measures by improvising, such as the example of explaining to a child why it is not wise to get familiar with strangers. While the parents might not be very far from the truth, the seed of distrust is planted in the fertile, innocent mind of the child.
Truth be said, some parents don’t even know some truth from untruth, probably because they have lived a lie they were told by their own parents in their childhood and have decided to hold tenaciously to the lie till their own parenthood. Some lies have become institutionalized into something of a tradition. An example is the issue of the tooth fairy. Where I came from, children are told that if a tooth should come off, no one else should see it as they should hasten to throw it away, because otherwise, that particular tooth won’t re-grow. We were also told that if a lizard finds the tooth and swallows it, that tooth would never grow again. While this might be aimed at ensuring that children properly dispose of those things, it’s still a lie.
These are some responses I received from teens during this survey:
“I am just used to their lies and I don’t even believe a word they say to me since second grade,” said one of the teenagers.
Another teenager asked me, “…do you know I can’t trust my mum on some personal and vital issues in my life simply because I don’t believe she can be sincere in her answers to me?”
“How did you find out you were being lied to?”I asked one of the kids.
“It’s easy!” he said. “My parents are not always consistent with their lies. I think it comes naturally to them, at different times and occasion and for specific purpose.”
In conclusion, as much as lying to kids is wrong from my own point of view, this article has noted reasons that may be considered even by critics. But, whatever the aim is, special care needs to be taken by parents to attend to their children’s needs by providing answers to their questions. Where the situation ‘forces’ them to lie to their children, special care also needs to be taken by them to correct the impression afterwards since some research claims that children, who have been lied to, especially by their parents, are more likely to lie to themselves. Children are more likely to become dishonest if they discover their parents don’t tell the truth. Research has found children can spot this tactic and can even tell when their parents are deliberately withholding information from them and they will in turn try to fill in the gaps by making up information themselves.
Most importantly, children don’t stay as kids forever. Parents need to be aware of the kind of things to tell their children at the different stages. They must also learn to be more realistic with them as they grow older because with or without you, they will eventually learn the realities of life. That is where good parenting comes in to help them become better adults as they discover the truth about life and learn how to handle every situation that comes their way.