Lies. All Lies. (Why I’m Teaching My Ten-Year-Old Lying Never Pays)

Posted: June 8, 2015 in Family and Children, Life Lessons
Tags: , , , , , ,
Why I'm teaching my kids lying never pays

Why I’m teaching my kids lying never pays

Sometimes, it feels like we live in a world of liars and their lies. Politicians lie. (It’s a job requirement?) Celebrities lie. Spouses lie. We tell lies to ourselves on a daily basis. Little white lies are often explained away as helpful ways to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Our children lie. And it’s our job, as parents, to teach them the consequences of lying.

My child lies. In fact, she told me the other day, after getting serious consequences for telling (what is in the grand scheme of things) a small lie, that when she panics, the lie is the first thing that comes out. Unfortunately, this was the third lie she’d been caught telling in a month’s time.

Luke, when I told him she said the first thought she has is to tell a story or lie, basically said, Duh. That’s what all liars do.

My child will not be a liar, though. Not on our watch. The relatively small lie she told was dealt with swiftly and without mercy, because at ten years old, we want her to understand that a lie always has a consequence. It may happen directly after the lie is told, or it may occur months or years later when she has to deal with the uncovering of the false story she told, but it will always bring consequences.

We’re making a big deal out of the small lies now, so we don’t have to worry about these lies in the future:

“No, I didn’t take any money.”

“We just went to her house. Nowhere else.”

“I haven’t been drinking.”

“I didn’t get into the car with her after she was drinking.”

“I didn’t do anything bad with him. There’s no way I could be pregnant.”

A lie right now about how her sister said something she didn’t say has nowhere near the impact of the lies above. But the small lie leads to the bigger lies, always. With each lie a person tells, it becomes easier. The lies roll off the tongue. They pop into the brain instantly when the liar is thinking, Now how do I make myself look good here? Or, how do I stay out of trouble? Every time my daughter lies, if left unchecked, it encourages her to lie better next time. Eventually, we will not be able to distinguish between the truth and the lie.

That’s a dangerous path to travel. Especially when she looks around her and sees that her world is filled with people getting away with lies. It’s in the news, it’s pretty much the basis of social media (look at our pretty made up lives!), and it’s even evidenced by the people she sees often. One person in our lives covers the lies that have been told with a lie so that the previous series of lies makes sense!

A life built on lies isn’t the life I want for my daughter, or any of my kids. It will only lead to destruction. At the very least, people will remember the liar and not the person.

Lying Leaves a Long-Lasting Reputation

I told my daughter this story to illustrate that fact:

When I was in grade school, I befriended a girl who didn’t seem to have many friends. I played with her for a few weeks, until one of the other kids in my class took pity on me and told me nobody wanted to be friends with her because she lied all the time. I started listening to the stories this girl told and realized how farfetched everything seemed. She was desperate to be liked, and yet her insecurities caused her to lie about everything. Nothing she said could be trusted. I backed away and eventually stopped being friends with her.

To this day, when I think of her, what immediately pops into my head is: That’s the girl who was a liar.

That’s the thing about building a reputation like that. Nobody ever forgets. And even if the person who’s been lied to tries to forgive a liar who has come clean or is reformed, it will always be there in the back of his or her head: that little voice that whispers, Is that a lie? Is he lying now? She said she won’t lie anymore, but how can I trust that? What if it’s just another lie?

Teaching That A Lie Always Has Consequences

In our house, a lie results in previous freedoms and privileges being taken away, along with consequences added. For example, since my daughter lied, we actively show her that the freedom she experienced before she lied is no longer allowed, because we can’t trust her to be truthful. We can’t assume that what another person said is true if it comes out of her mouth. We will check, in her earshot, by explaining to that person that she has lied and we need to verify that what she says is accurate. Anytime something comes up that wasn’t a big deal before has to be dealt with differently. We say, Because you lied, we can’t automatically assume you will do what you say now, so we have to have proof.

And the added consequences were chosen by her. She had a choice to take over the chores of her brother and sister, in addition to her own, either:

a) Until we were satisfied she had fulfilled her consequence- i.e. there was no time limit, or

b) Do all normal chores (dishes, laundry, vacuuming) for a month on her own and keep her television privileges, or

c) Do all chores for a month and give up TV privileges, but be able to ask her brother and sister for help with the chores. However, it was made clear that neither of them were under any obligation to help her when she asked if they didn’t want to.

She chose option C as her consequence.

The rough part and the beneficial part are one and the same: she is constantly reminded that all of this is because she lied. Many things are prefaced by saying, “Remember, because you lied, we have to do things this way. And you chose your consequence, so you are not allowed to have attitude about it.”

Lying is a huge, multi-layered issue that has many different meanings and emotional reactions for people. People who have been lied to feel hurt and frustrated. People who lie feel ashamed, unable to stop, or even unable to see themselves as liars. Many people who lie begin to believe their own stories and refuse to see when they are shown their own lies.

Rewarded For the Truth

The flip side to all of this is that our children have always known that we give no consequences for telling the truth. No matter how scary it is for them to tell us what actually happened, it is far better than the avalanche of consequences that come with lying.

In fact, they are told time and time again that they will be rewarded for the truth. If they broke a rule and told the truth about it (without someone else telling on them first), they will receive consequences for the broken rule, but praise for telling the truth about it.

Yet still . . . the lying. Even when kids know the truth will set them free, in a sense, they sometimes still choose the lie. This is what frustrates me most about the whole issue, and is also what makes liars so effective most of the time. They lie because they are confident the lie will never be discovered!

Even though she knew she would get in trouble, even though she knew the consequences would be severe, and even though she knows right from wrong, my daughter still chose the lie.

And the worst part about it is: it’s because she thought we were too dumb to tell the difference. That’s really what it comes down to, that someone who lies believes they are good enough at it that it will be taken as truth, and that the person they are telling the lie to isn’t smart enough to know it’s a lie.

Ouch.

All this is to hopefully set our kids up for down the road, when the issues they face will become big and unwieldy. Coming to us with the truth, about any situation, is encouraged and expected. Because we need to know when they’re facing a tough choice and don’t know how to handle it. We need to train them to talk openly now, before they are facing the tidal wave of hormones and peer pressure that’s going to  hit, so that talking to us is automatic.

Not scary.

Not dreaded.

Not awkward and weird.

Just . . . natural.

It shouldn’t be natural to tell the lie. It shouldn’t be natural to save face simply because you’re human and made a mistake.

But in our world, more and more often it seems, being human and making mistakes is frowned upon. People don’t want to deal with the messy and the complicated. Or, truthfully, they were never taught how to deal with the messy and the complicated. If Mom & Dad are so focused on what the outside perception of their lives is to their friends, neighbors, and coworkers, how can they possibly think this won’t create issues for the children who emulate them? If Mom & Dad teach their children that it’s wrong to lie, but shrug off white lies or willingly corroborate someone else’s lies (We overslept! I lost the form! We have an appointment that day! Etc., etc.), what do they expect their kids to take away from that?

Hint: it’s somewhere along the lines of, Hey, Mom & Dad say lying is wrong, but they just told Uncle Dan that we’d be out of town next weekend, so it can’t be that big of a deal.

Quote by Blaise Pascal

Quote by Blaise Pascal

The Strange Taboo of Truth Telling

Here’s the problem with the truth: it’s hard to hear.

You tell your kids to always tell the truth, no matter what, but then little Billy tells you truthfully he’s hated your homemade spaghetti for years and only eats it because he feels guilty, and you get mad or upset. Billy’s telling the truth, but it was hard to hear and he feels like he said something wrong.

Now, in the future, when Billy goes to tell a new truth, say, Hey Mom & Dad, I’m struggling with some feelings I’m having for other boys and I don’t know what to do about it, he will think twice. Based on other times he’s told the raw truth over the years, he feels hesitant. Because the reaction he gets will most likely be shock, anger, or disappointment instead of solutions and acceptance.

We all want everyone else to tell us the truth, but when it comes time for the truth to be told to us, if it clashes with the world we’ve constructed for ourselves, we don’t know how to deal with it. We don’t want to hear that people are not who we thought they were, or that we have flaws that bother other people, or that the real reason cousin Kaitlyn doesn’t want to come to your house is because she’s creeped out by your son’s behavior toward her.

The problem with the truth is it strips away all the social niceties we expect and presents us with a version of life that is real and raw and uncomfortable. With the truth, we don’t get to hide in the comfort of our safe beliefs about life and the people in it. Instead, we are faced with real feelings and with the motivation behind why people really do and say the things they do, and not the easy excuses they’ve been giving us.

There’s a reason why everyone says the truth hurts.

But I still want to teach my children that despite that initial sting that comes with truth, it’s better to press on and expose what’s really going on rather than hide behind easy lies.

Because in the future, they’ll be able to stand on their own two feet and see the world for what it really is, the good and the bad. They’ll be able to hold people accountable, see through someone else’s bullshit, and never allow themselves to be taken for a fool.

That’s a valuable lesson – one I wished I’d learned when I was younger.

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Do you agree that lying pays for many people? Have you ever been lied to by your child or someone close to you? What did it do to the relationship? Do you think lying has become more accepted (or ignored)? Let me know your take on this thorny issue in the comments!

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Comments
  1. jmh says:

    Wow, that’s a really tough situation, but it sounds like you’re handling it well. I also had an elementary school friend who was a chronic liar, and her lying did end the friendship. I can’t even remember the lies she told now–I just know I couldn’t trust anything that came out of her mouth.

    As an editor, I recently lost an online friend because I told the truth about his book–that it needed a lot of work. I tried my best to be tactful, but there’s only so much tact involved when it’s your job to point out every mistake. You’re right–not everyone is ready for the truth, or wants to hear it.

    • It’s such a disappointing feeling knowing that a great (or even just a decent) relationship with another person ended because you had the courage to tell them the truth. I have a feeling that your online friend will hear the truth again in regards to the book, and at some point will realize you were the first and bravest person to tell the truth he needed to hear but wasn’t ready to listen to. A sad situation for sure.

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