On Lying to Kids

Calvin and Hobbes - Why Sun SetsI am not a parent, a fact that children everywhere are most grateful for. Although I always thought I would be a great father—like Calvin’s dad, but with more flair. For some reason, all actual parents seem to think that I’m a bad influence on their kids. Like it’s wrong to lie to them or something!

Now I have research on my side. It may be wrong to lie to children, but all parents do it. And not in ways that explain important things like Charles’s Law. Research published in the International Journal of Psychology did interviews with 200 parents in China and the United States. And they all lied! (To the kids, not the researchers. I think.) Check this out:

The most commonly used lie—popular with both US and Chinese families—was parents pretending to a child that they were going to walk away and leave the child to his or her tantrum.

The researchers claim that this is due to “the universality of the challenge parents face in trying to leave a place against their child’s wishes.” I don’t think so. I suspect this isn’t even the most common lie. Rather, I think this is the lie that parents remember because they feel bad about it. They think, “What if someone thinks I would really leave my child?” When you think about it, this is kind of sweet. Or many not.

One mother told her child, “If you don’t follow me, a kidnapper will come to kidnap you while I’m gone.” There could be a little verbalized fantasy going on here. I may not be a parent, but I can see that being one is a trial at times. Recently, Bill Maher (about as knowledgeable of kids as I am) said he knew that a stem cell was not a baby because you could put a stem cell in the freezer and you can’t a baby. And how did he know that? Because if parents could put their babies in the freezer, they would. “We need a vacation; let’s put Junior in the freezer until we get back!”

Anyway, I don’t think lying is a bad thing. Mostly, I think it’s good. You look great! What a wonderful song that was! I didn’t mean to kill the first few! Okay, maybe not that last one. But I certainly think that my “educational” moments with kids should be seen in charming. And the kids will someday too. “Uncle Frank? I just made a fool of myself! Why did you tell me unicorns were hunted to extinction by Neanderthals?!”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “On Lying to Kids

  1. Funny — I don’t think I’ve ever lied to a kid. But I’ve obfuscated. I’ve put off tough questions by saying "well, I’ll explain it later" while hoping I never have to. (I guess that’s a lie, but, shit, I’m not their parent.)

    I don’t have kids, but I spend some time with my partner’s sibling’s kids, and they are multiracial, with almost no connection to the Black community (absentee dads.) I always dreaded the inevitable "what the hell is the deal with white racism" question. Tough stuff isn’t dealt with early in schools; I remember learning about the Holocaust in 7th grade. I pictured a Jewish kid, raised outside of Jewish culture, coming home and going "SHIT! THAT’s what happened!" And these kids’ mom never broached the subject of American racism, so, it was like a lingering land mine . . .

    Turns out it never came up. One month, they had no idea people who looked like them were ever enslaved or segregated; next month they wanted my help looking up info on MLK for school papers. Thank you, Saint Paul Public Schools, for letting me off that hook . . . until they get older, I’m sure.

  2. @JMF – I don’t remember actually lying to children. I just tease. Unlike what their parents think, the kids know it is just a game. Calvin knows that his dad is joking about the sun being the size of a quarter. And certainly I would stop if I thought the kids were really believing my nonsense. It is all a game–and a good one at that.

    Not the mention the fact that I am one of the few places the kids I know can go to get good answers to difficult questions. Their parents are too busy making sure they don’t starve. I, on the other hand, have nothing better to do than discuss who would win a fight between Spiderman and the Green Lantern.

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