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Do Children Grow Out of Lying?

Do Children Grow Out of Lying?

posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - December 3rd, 2013

The thing is, young children start lying because they’re often trying to figure out what they can and cannot do. There’s sort of a phase where children will go where they’ll tell a lot of little lies. Generally most children sort of drop off in terms of the lie telling behavior as they get into those later school years. The reason they do this is for two reasons. One, it’s because of us. We socialize them that honesty is important. They learn that lying isn’t so great and I can get caught, and when I get caught they’re not very happy with me. They also learn through their social interactions with their peers. They get negative feedback from their peers when they lie. With these two processes lying tends to drop off in most children.

When I say it drops off, it doesn’t completely go away. When you think about it, most adults tell the occasional lie. This is what happens to children. Eventually it drops off as they get into the older elementary school years. They tell the occasional lie. Certainly the teenager tells the occasional lie. What they’re lying about may change a little bit but again, most people tell the occasional lies.

Research with adults has shown that most adults tell one or two lies a day. Often they’re very innocuous lies like telling somebody that yes, a new haircut does look good or no, that outfit doesn’t make you look fat. But we do tell occasional lies. This is what happens. But how children learn about this is through socialization processes, through us explaining that honesty is important, but also through modeling behavior that they see in adults, where adults model honesty to them.

If we want to inspire children to tell the truth, are we better off telling them the story of George Washington when he chopped down the cherry tree and he was praised for telling the truth or are we better off telling them the story of the boy who cried wolf and got in trouble for telling lies? So, is it better to tell stories or try to create behavior that emphasizes lies being “bad” or “honestly being good” in a study that was done, it turned out that children told the George Washington story were 70% less likely to lie during the experiment, with children who had been told the story of the boy who cried wolf only 50% less likely to lie.  What sort of stories are you sharing with your children?

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