Kids, Lying, and Virtue

Posted on March 2, 2008

Bruce Schneier’s blog has an interesting post pointing to a New York Magazine article on kids and lying. Its a thought provoking article but some people (based on comments and such) seem to come away thinking that somehow punishing children for lying leads them down a yet more destructive path than simply guiding it, and that lying actually requires more intellegance than honesty.

Now… I normally don’t comment on other articles or drop links, I absolutely loath linkdumping, etc, but I feel strongly about this one and shall indulge myself.

I suggest that suggesting that lying requires more intellect than honesty is missing the point. It is human nature to lie, everyone thinks up elaborate deceptions and to do so is no sin… the real distinction is whether or not you allow it to leave your mouth. When confronted with a difficult or threatening situation you are presented with an instant in which to make a choice, deception or truth. It is the hope of any parent that the child makes that latter choice. Any parent knows that their child wants to simply make the problem go away and to give some excuse or deception to cover themselves, you can see it in any childs eyes, the conflict… what matters as a parent is the choice that they make. Coming to the correct decision is difficult and requires immense courage! A parents job should be to reward and encourage that courage and virtue, not to make them a simpleton, but rather to build their inner confidence and show them that through honesty and courage they have far more control over a situation than by building lie on top of lie.

I agree with the article on several points, including that children who’s parent punish without leading their children just get kids who are better liers. I attended a Christian school when I was a child for about 2 years, the teachers and staff were wonderful, the curriculum top notch, even for 1st and 2nd grade, but I have never in all my days encountered children more deceptive and evil in all my days… they could, at even an early age, do almost anything because they knew exactly how to appear to adults. This had nothing do with their environment as much as it did with their parents being inattentive and ignorant to their children.

I watch my children’s behavior in my presence… but I also go back and watch them after they believe that I’m gone so that I can observe how they act when I’m not around. Because thats the real test. I believe in punishment, fairly strict punishment for strong children like my own, but I also believe in large doses of encouragement and praise. When I correct my children I make them stand tall and hold their heads high, not slump and withdraw. I believe in empowering children, not beating them into cowering submission.

Dr. Cloud wrote a great book entitled “Integrity”, which suggests that character and integrity are far more than simply “not lying”. Rather, he suggests that integrity is the the act of confronting reality. We can rationalize away truth quite easily, but the reality still exists, you simply prolong the resolution. In this way, “five more minutes” is as dangerous as a lie, because your probly not going to do it in five minutes, you simply stalling. Many of us have procrastinated entire portions of our lives away all because we were trying to avoid confronting some reality we didn’t like… a person with true integrity rationalizes differently, see’s the reality of the situation and seeks it out quickly and appropriately.

Children are very unique and individual, each must be instructed differently, and as adults we must not only instill values in our children but also model them. We tell our children to apologies, but do they see us doing the same? The article asks when the 98% of people who believe lying is wrong become the 98% of people who lie. And this cuts to the heart of it… at some point, for some reason, many parents believe that the values they teach are not appropriate for “real life”… and we wonder why kids grow up conflicted, confused and broken. Yes, deception requires a good amount of cognitive skill, but rationalizing your choices in the second of decision is where the rubbers meets the road and where children truly learn strength and truth from weakness and deception.