Lying to your kids could make them more dishonest and less well-adjusted as adults

"I've got Santa on the phone and he says he's not coming unless you go to bed now."

Stefan Klein/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Telling white lies to children can be somewhat par for the course when you're a parent: "I've got Santa on the phone and he says he's not coming unless you go to bed now," is particularly useful during the festive season, for example.


It can seem like nothing: just another tool to improve your child's behavior. But don't get too attached to the technique — telling too many white lies to your children may have more far-reaching consequences than you might have hoped, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

To examine the impact of parental lying, Peipei Setoh from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and colleagues gave 379 Singaporean adults four online questionnaires. First, in the "parenting by lying" questionnaire, participants were asked to recall whether or not their parents had told them various lies during childhood. This 16-item test covers four categories of lies: lies about food, lies about leaving or staying (e.g. "if you don't come with me now I'll leave you here"), lies about misbehavior and lies about spending money.

Next, the participants filled in the "lying to parents" questionnaire, indicating how frequently they themselves now lie to their parents as adults. Three categories were examined: lies concerning "activities and actions" they had taken part in, such as the details of relationships or friendships, "prosocial lies", in which they had lied to benefit others, and exaggerations about events.

Finally, they took part in a longer questionnaire, which included questions on psychological and social dysfunctions such as problems with thought, attention, aggression, and rule-breaking. They also completed the Levenson self-report psychopathy test, which examines psychopathic traits such as selfishness and impulsivity.

The results suggested that those whose parents had lied more were now more likely to lie to their own parents — by being lied to, in other words, it seemed they had started to believe that being dishonest was morally acceptable. Parental dishonesty may also have eroded trust, the team suggests: By being lied to, children stop trusting their parents and would therefore be less likely to feel obligated to tell them the truth. Participants who were lied to more frequently in childhood were also more likely to have higher levels of maladjustment as adults, particularly when it came to "externalizing" problems like aggression.

There are, however, questions about whether the causal inference is as straightforward as it seems. If parents are constantly lying to their children, for example, there may potentially be other underlying relational issues contributing to problems in adolescence and adulthood. Yes, misleading children might not help their development, but there may also be deeper problems that are responsible for their difficulties with attention or behavior. Participants were also being asked to recall childhood experiences, of which they may have limited memory; subsequent family rifts, deaths, or estrangements may also have impacted their view.

Nevertheless, next time you think about telling what you see as a harmless white lie to keep your child quiet or get them into bed, think again. It may save you some time — but, in the long run, it's probably not worth it.

Parenting by lying in childhood is associated with negative developmental outcomes in adulthood

Emily Reynolds (@rey_z) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest.

Reprinted with permission of The British Psychological Society. Read the original article.

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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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