Lying is a complex issue, but at the core, it is deception and manipulation. In this post, I will confront seven myths about lying and compare each one with an opposing truth. I will also pose a question for each one that you can ask yourself — a kind of lying litmus test.
Lying is our focus this week because in all of our travels and conversations with parents, we have found that it’s one of the biggest issues parents confront — and one that typically leaves them feeling exasperated and sometimes hopeless.
Earlier this week, I shared the Confessions of a Reformed Liar, and in it I talked about how when left unchecked, lying can become a habit and a hard one to break. Tomorrow, we will offer six steps for overcoming lying, and we will also talk about this issue on our weekly radio show (see below for details).
Myth #1 — Some levels of lying are okay
There are all different kinds of lying, and some are worse than others, we tell ourselves. There are (to name a few)
- slight exaggerations
- little white lies
- tall tales
- bold face lies
- pathological lies
Is it really a big a deal if you tell your kids to say you’re not home because you don’t want to talk to someone? Is it okay to lie about a child’s age to get a cheaper price? Some would say these are just little white lies, and they are okay.
How do we set clear boundaries for our kids to help them know when they should tell the truth and when it’s okay to lie?
Truth — Deception is wrong at every level.
If you’re unsure if something is okay, look at the motive. If the motive is to manipulate a situation to create a specific outcome, it’s deception, and it’s wrong.
Ask yourself: “Am I trying to engineer the situation to create a specific outcome?”
Myth #2 — Leaving out important details is not lying
This is the old “Don’t ask – Don’t tell” philosophy. When you adopt this line of thinking, you tell yourself, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
Truth — Omission is a lie if the goal is to manipulate a situation and engineer a specific outcome
Here’s an example: You don’t think your husband would be thrilled with your recent shopping trip, so you tuck the bags in the back of your closet and casually introduce the new items as if you have always had them.
Ask yourself: “Am I leaving out this information to prevent a confrontation or to create a specific outcome?”
Myth #3 — It’s ok to stretch the truth when it’s for someone else’s benefit
Are we doing good when we say nice (but mostly untrue) things to encourage someone? Flattery is a great example of this kind of lie. Flattery means “excessive and insincere praise, especially that given to further one’s own interests.”
Yesterday I shared that the root of lying is often about finding a shortcut. There is a laziness in flattery. People often use flattery to further their own interest, and in that case, it’s a short cut to win favor.
What do you do when your friend asks if her outfit makes her look fat…and it DOES!? Yikes. You don’t want to hurt your friend’s feelings, right? But if you really care about her, you don’t want her to wear something that makes her look bad, especially since she asked for your opinion. Is it a form of lying to say, “No. You look great?”
Truth — It is not loving to lie. It may take work to tell the truth, but real love is gently honest.
So, what do you do about the grey areas of this kind of lying?
- Lying to sparing hurt feelings?
- Lying for the sake of a surprise party?
- Lying about the Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny?
There usually is a way around the lie. If you think it through, you will find a way to be truthful without hurting someone’s feelings.
For example, after a dinner at a friend’s house, she asks if you had a good time. The truth is, you thought her husband was arrogant. Most of the conversation revolved around him, and both you and your husband were irritated and bored, but you don’t want to say that because it would crush her. Instead, you could find positive (and true) things to say like, “Your chicken marsala was awesome. Where did you get that recipe?” and “Your daughter is adorable. I loved all of the art creations that she showed me.”
In some cases, it is more loving to be truthful than to avoid the truth. If I am being harsh with my kids or mistreating my husband or acting rude or prideful, I want Jody to gently tell me so I that I can work on changing my behavior. Actually, this is something that we do for each other on a regular basis, and the truth is that it stings at first, but ultimately the honesty helps us grow. It’s not easy to be the person saying those things. Truth telling can be hard work. Lying is often easier, but it is not better.
When it comes to things like Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, it’s different for every family. For many reasons, Jody and I do not tell our children that these things are true. But in some families, this is an important part of the celebration. Just as pretend play is not lying, the motive here is not deception or manipulation. It’s part of the fun, and for that reason, it is different than lying. Surprise parties would also fall in the celebration/fun category.
Ask yourself: “Is love really my motive? Is saying this really in the person’s best interest?”
Myth #4 — Exaggeration is not lying
Kids often see things in black and white. If they hear us exaggerate to add dramatic emphasis, we can lose credibility, especially with a kid who is trying to be a truth teller.
Truth — Exaggeration is adding emphasis with untrue details. It’s manipulation in an attempt to create a specific outcome.
Here’s an example of what exaggeration might like look in a family with more than one kid: in the middle of a fight one kids storms out of the room and lightly brushes against the other kid. The one who was bumped screams, “He pushed me!” The goal is to instantly win the parent to their side. It’s a short cut, and it’s manipulation.
Ask yourself, “Am I adding untrue details to create a specific outcome?”
Myth #5 — It’s okay to be untruthful in the name of creativity
Imagination is one of the greatest gifts to humanity, and Jody and I happen to believe that it is becoming increasingly important in our global marketplace. In fact, we have a talk that we are giving in a few different cities this year called “Creative is the New Intelligent.” But sometimes imagination morphs into lying.
Here’s an example: “Hey mom! When I looked out the window this morning, I saw a space ship, and a little green alien popped his head out and waved to me.”
Truth — The difference between imagination and lying is in the declaration that the story is true and really happened.
When we let our kids get away with telling tall tales or making up stories by playing along, we are actually teaching them that these stories get the awe factor from the audience, and in that case, we are reinforcing the behavior. Check back tomorrow. We are going to talk about how to confront these situations in a way that’s empowering but doesn’t allow imagination to become lying.
Ask yourself: “Am I trying to say that something I imagined has actually happened?”
Myth #6 — Everyone lies from time to time, so it is okay.
It is true that most people lie from time to time, but does that make it excusable?
Truth — Prevalent does not mean acceptable. Lying is wrong no matter how many people do it.
Some people are naturally good at telling the truth. That’s not to say they never lie, but for these people, telling the truth is easier than lying. Even when they are facing tough consequences, they would rather tell the truth. Other people have a much harder time telling the truth. For these people, making up a story is more natural.
This concept is critical to the process of overcoming lying. Our kids need to understand that there are going to be things they naturally excel at and other things that they have to work at. Truth telling may be difficult, but it is not impossible, and it is always the right choice.
Ask Yourself: “Am I letting myself off the hook because other people lie too?”
Myth #7 — It’s not a big deal.
Lying can be habit forming, and when left unchecked, it can be a difficult one to break. Once it becomes ingrained, it can be challenging for the person (especially a kid) to learn how to think through the scenario and tell what actually happened.
Truth: Habits determine character, and character determines destiny. Lying creates bondage, but truth telling is freeing.
In spite of potential consequences, there is freedom in the truth. On the flip side, kids who are saddled with the shame of lying and plagued with the burden of having to remember and perpetuate a lie can become tormented by it. We can give our kids the gift of a clean conscience by helping them learn how to tell truth.
Ask Yourself: “Am I excusing or overlooking a lie by telling myself it’s no big deal?”
Come back tomorrow, and we will look at how to help kids overcome lying.
You can also tune into our radio show tomorrow at 10:00 ET, where we will be talking more about this issue. Parenting On Purpose with Jenni and Jody airs live on WSRQ Radio. If you are in the Manatee area, you can find us on 1220AM, 106.9FM or 98.9FM. If not, listen live at sarasotatalkradio.com.