Playing the Lying Game: Detecting and Dealing with Lies and Liars, from Occasional Fibbers to Frequent Fabricators

By Gini Graham Scott | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
The Lies of Parents
and Children

Parent–child relationships are peppered with lies. Likewise, children lie to each other, and the lies become more complex as they grow up. Commonly, children are taught very early not to tell a lie, and it’s part of the tradition of religion and morality passed down from parent to child. Yet very young children begin to lie as well, sometimes because they experience lies from their parents and other adults or older children. Then, too, children soon discover the benefits of lying for much the same reason that adults do —to impress others, to avoid punishment or disapproval, or to get out of something they don’t want to do.

So, early on, children begin to develop the patterns of lying they will continue to express in later life along the continuum from the model of absolute integrity to the frequent liar.


WHAT PARENTS TELL CHILDREN ABOUT LYING

The ideal of honesty has a long history, wrapped in notions of traditional morality and religion, with admonitions against lying derived from the JudeoChristian tradition and from other religions. And there are all sorts of outside supports for this idea as well. For example, traditional stories such as Pinocchio, about the little boy whose nose grows long when he tells a lie, support the notion that the lie will be discovered and punished. Religious leaders convey this message, too —it’s wrong to lie.

The people I spoke with pointed out how they had been given this message early: Don’t lie; it’s wrong to lie; the lie will be revealed. For example, Alison, the relationship counselor, said:

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