Discussion of NurtureShock, Chapter 4 "Why Kids Lie"

We're talking about NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman allsummer. One chapter every Friday. Jump in whenever you'd like. The first week we talked about Chapter 1 about praise. The second week we talked about Chapter 2 about sleep. Last week we talked about talking about race with your kids. This week we're talking about why kids lie and how we're inadvertently promoting that.

This week's chapter is "Why Kids Lie," and I found it less of an "a-ha!" than any of the previous three chapters and more of an "oh, crap." Here's my super-sketchy list of the stuff they cover:

  • Most parents do no better than chance when asked to tell if their kids were lying (from videos of their kids talking about things that were either the truth or lies). These experiments have been done a bunch of times, and parents simply can't tell when their kids are lying, even though we're all convinced we can.
  • People think boys lie more than girls do, but they lie at the same rate.
  • Kids lie almost instinctively to make themselves look better and feel better, to get praise, and to be the center of attention. Basically, it's the same reasons adults lie without really thinking about it.
  • Even if you think your kid doesn't lie, your kid lies.
  • Kids hear us telling lies all the time, and think it's ok. They can't tell the difference between "white lies" and other lies. Telling someone you like her new haircut when you don't is the same to a kid as saying you didn't eat the last cookie when you did.
  • Kids also can't tell the difference between a lie and a statement that turns out not to be true. If you tell your child she'll see her friend at the playground and then the friend gets sick and doesn't come, that sequence is the same to a child as if you'd deliberately lied.
  • We reward kids for telling us what we want to hear. So there's no real benefit to telling the truth. Especially if the truth is going to get them in trouble, and the lie has little chance of being detected.

Essentially, we're all liars, and we're raising liars because we don't understand how they see our interactions, and because we reward them for telling us what we want to hear.

After reading this chapter I've started reexamining the way I phrase things with my kids so that when I'm not sure of an outcome I haven't promised something that won't necessarily happen. I'm also focusing more specifically on not penalizing bad behavior as much as I penalize lying about bad behavior. (A few weeks ago there was an incident in which I meted out a punishment and then a double-long punishment for lying. And then gave the opportunity to work off the punishment for the initial infraction, but the lying punishment had to stand. That was sobering, and I hope it had an effect, but I know I have to police my own behavior as much as anything else.)