Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Parents who lie to their kids raise adult liars

A new study finds that casually fibbing to children results in lifelong issues.

Image source: PR Image Factory/Shutterstock
  • For simplicity and speed, parents may employ untruths as conversation-enders and to coerce desirable behavior using empty threats.
  • Telling kids not to lie while modeling contrary behavior is, not surprisingly, a problem.
  • Lying as an adult is just one of the issues lied-to children exhibit as grownups.

Let's set aside the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny for a few moments. There are countless other — typically well-intentioned — daily lies that a parent may tell a child, including empty threats to get them to behave, over-simplification of tricky questions, and so on. A new psychology study led by Setoh Peipei of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, however, finds a correlation between being lied to in childhood and lying more as an adult, something that other research has shown becomes easier and easier over time. It's also associated with other problematic behaviors such as rule-breaking, aggression, and intrusiveness.

Why parents lie

Image source: SpeedKingz/Shutterstock

The 24/7 demands of parenting can be relentless, and it's easy to understand why an exhausted Mom or Dad may be attracted to shortcuts that seem to save time and obviate the need for complicated explanations that would require maturity to grasp. There are lots of these:

  • "If you don't come right now, I'm going to leave you in this store."
  • "No TV for the rest of the week if you don't do your homework now."
  • "Mommy/Daddy will always be here."
  • Even the classic, no-one-knows-why-it-works-so-well, "I'm counting: 1…2…" It's inherently a bluff. Most kids never find out what would happen at 3. Few parents know, either.

Nonetheless, trust shifts once a child sees that actually you'll wait for them to come and not abandon them in the store, and the implicit message is ultimately, "I tell you never to lie, but I do it to you all the time."

"Authority assertion over children is a form of psychological intrusiveness," points out Setoh, "which may undermine children's sense of autonomy and convey rejection, ultimately undermining children's emotional well-being. Future research should examine the nature of the lies and goals of the parents so that researchers can suggest what kind of lies to avoid, and what kind of truth-telling parents should engage in."

The study

Image source: Peerawit/Shutterstock

The study published in the September issue of the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology was a collaboration between Setoh and researchers from University of Toronto in Canada, University of California, San Diego in the U.S., and Zhejiang Normal University in China.

The subjects were 379 young adults from Singapore who responded to questions posed in online surveys:

  • The subjects were asked if their parents ever lied to them about four particular subjects: eating, leaving or staying, misbehavior, or money.
  • They were next queried about how often they lied as adults to their parents about activities, if they exaggerated about events, or if they told lies intended to benefit others.
  • Finally, the subjects filled out two questionnaires self-reporting their own psychosocial maladjustments and tendency to act selfishly or impulsively.

The results may be taken with a few caveats. First, self-reporting can be unreliable. Second, while the subjects' answers show a correlation between parental lying and individuals' behaviors, it's just that, a correlation that may or may not indicate the true cause of their problems. Finally, Setoh suggests a more complete picture of the mechanisms at play could be gained from a study that involves both young adults and their parents.

How to change

Image source: The Faces/Shutterstock

Setoh tells NTU, "Parents should be aware of these potential downstream implications and consider alternatives to lying, such as acknowledging children's feelings, giving information so children know what to expect, offering choices and problem-solving together to elicit good behavior from children."

To respond effectively, honestly, and relatively easily to difficult inquiries, answer the question being asked and stop. A child questioning you about such topics will never ask, "Tell me all about sex," for example, but more likely, "Did I live in your tummy?" or "How did I get in there?" By honestly answering the question being asked, you don't have to lie, and you're unlikely to be met with any difficult follow-up questions since the child needs time to absorb and process the new information. They may get back to you later with a follow-up, of course, at which point you do the same thing. Few people asking what time it is want to know how to build a clock.

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
Keep reading Show less

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?

Videos
  • From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
  • "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
  • Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.

COVID-19 brain study to explore long-term effects of the virus

A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.

Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.

Coronavirus
  • The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
  • Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Keep reading Show less
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation

Better reskilling can future-proof jobs in the age of automation. Enter SkillUp's new coalition.

Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast