Little White Lies: A Necessary Social Tool or Harmful Habit?
Many parents preach honesty but confuse kids with seemingly innocent untruths
I began prepping my 7-year-old with a little white lie about midway through a party we attended over the weekend. Fearing he would blurt out the truth as I explained to the host why we were leaving, I told my son the whole family was going to a baseball game rather than just the two who actually were.
From the moment I announced this "revised" plan, he asked numerous questions about the logistics. When did the plans change? Would we sit together? What if the game was sold out?
According to child psychologist Victoria Talwar, I should not have been surprised at my son's skepticism. Children as young as 3 can begin to detect when someone is lying to them, Talwar told CNN.com.
While Talwar supports parents' decisions to weigh the risks and benefits of telling the truth, she said repeated lying to children will erode their trust in parents.
CNN.com featured a listing last year of examples of white lies parents had told their children. Many seemed for the sake of avoiding arguments or temper tantrums. My favorite was the parent who told her young daughter pleading to stop at a playground that all playgrounds were closed and that anyone currently at a playground was simply breaking the rules.
I spend quite a bit of my time and energy teaching my children about the importance of honesty. More often than not, I confuse them with what I consider to be a necessary lie to spare hurt feelings or prevent unpleasant responses.
Kerry Kelly Novick, a psychoanalyist at the Michigan Psychoanalyic Institute, cited a study that found 20 percent of adults tell lies in social interactions daily. One in five people you talk with on a daily basis is being fed baloney, so to speak.
According to Novick, children 5 and up know the difference between thoughts and actions, including understanding that words have an impact on others' feelings. Many parents value honesty above other qualities like good judgment and confidence, but they send children mixed messages by lying.
A study of more than 300 children ages 3-11 who were given a bar of plain white soap rather than an expected toy found that children were more likely to thank the gift-giver and say they liked the soap when parents had encouraged them to tell these "little white lies" than those who had not been coached.
Is there harm in this? Novick thinks so, and she encouraged parents to stop lying to their children no matter the subject matter. Instead, practice ways of remaining honest while sparing others' feelings. Perhaps brevity is best.