The other day I was driving home from work, listening to NPR (yep, dork), when I heard a segment interviewing the author of this new book Nurture Shock. The author, Po Bronson, brought up a pretty interesting theory about lying in children.
Mr. Bronson said that all children lie (no duh), and that lying is a sign of nascent intelligence, indicating that the child understands the difference between reality and stories they create as an alternative reality. By age 4, all children "should" be lying. However, it is the parents' responsibility to "socialize" the child not to lie by age 7, or lying then becomes a coping mechanism for dealing with uncomfortable situations (in other words, they become pathological liars).
For the most part, children do not lie because they are just "bad." They lie because they do not want to be met with our disproval over the truth. In other words, Carter told us that he sat on Bennett because he thought he was a statue, because he thought that wouldn't make us mad, but telling us that he sat on his brother because he thought it was funny would (and yes, it would). What they do not have the capacity to understand at that age is that not only are we mad about the truth (because parents are after all omniscient, are we not???), but we're doubly mad that they lied about it.
So, how do you deal? Mr. Bronson says that the more severe the punishment is for lying, the more we drive our children to become better liars. Rather, you have to "socialize" your child not to lie. Parents should "preempt" a lie ('cause you can see it coming from a mile away) and say "Look, it would make me really proud of you or happy with you right now if you tell me what really happened." So yeah, you have to give up some of your irritation about the preciptous event, and "reward" in a sense the act of telling the truth.
Hm.....there's something to chew on.
Then Mr. Bronson turned to a subject which already causes me great anxiety - teenagers. He said that a study done recently showed that out of 26 topics, the "average" teen will lie to their parents about at least 12 of the topics (I think those are the correct numbers). On the low end, the very "best" teens only lie to their parents about 4-6 of the topics. So, parents shouldn't be so delusional as to believe they actually have an honest and open relationship with their child. None of them tell the truth all the time. But what makes the difference between the 12+ -topic liars and the 4-topic liars? According to Mr. Bronson, if the parents allow for some negotiation of the rules, the teens are more likely to "argue/negotiate" the rules rather than just circumventing the whole ordeal and doing what they want anyway. Mr. Bronson posits that if parents deliberately create situations where they are willing to negotiation/argue for some leniency with their teens on "easier" issues, that will encourage the teen to be more honest about the harder issues.