Mark Twain said there were “…lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Damn lies are the ones that break a parent’s heart when issuing forth from their trusted child’s mouth.
As a foster parent caring for troubled teens I lived with liars. Most lied to get out of trouble, some lied to save face. A few seemed to lie for the joy of lying or to stay in practice. My stance when a child came to live with us, was to cover the rules and consequences. The consequence for lying was my deciding to believe a child or not. Perversely, at least in the lying foster child’s eyes, I usually chose to think they were lying when I knew the opposite was true. This produced outraged cries, but allowed me to win that particular war for I could say:
“You have lied and that means I pick and choose when I believe you.”
A Gotcha War victory for me.
When a trusted child suddenly turns liar, the road is harder.
Parent advice for dealing with a lying child
As many experts point out, lying is common among teens. Guess what? It is also common among grown ups. A recent study reported that most people lie 12 times an hour or a hundred times a day. Mostly we tell white lies; these are kind lies, not damned lies.
According to an article Should Moral Individuals Ever Lie which discusses Jewish laws about lying, one is required to lie for the following reasons:
- Lying to preserve peace
- Where honesty might cause oneself or another person serious harm
- Not to hurt another person’s feelings
- To provide comfort
One is permitted to lie:
- To protect property from scoundrels
- In order not to appear arrogant
- For the sake of decency, i.e. not telling the truth about intimate matters
That said, I made it a point not to sooth my foster children’s feelings with white lies at the risk of hurting their feelings. While I understand the concept of white lies, and the rules laid out by the Rabbis and shared by many sages, I think white lies harm intimate relationships.
I tend to follow the rule of Virginia Satir, a well known family therapist: “A true friend tells you when you need to wear a deodorant.”
Asked if a someone was fat, if I liked a hair style, or a dress, my reply was always an honest one. My rule was to say what I saw, say it as just my opinion, and to not say it meanly, but not lie.
I needed to carefully model honesty for kids who thought lying was okay, but I also felt that because I cared, I needed to be blunt about some things.
First tip: Start early to do some teaching about truth and honesty. Pre-schoolers are notorious for speaking the truth and embarassing their parents. See that as a teachable moment to talk about keeping quiet (lies of omission) in order to be kind. Another teachable moment is when you are caught in a white lie.
Second tip: If you didn’t start early to talk a bit about honesty, have a few chats with a child entering the teens about the need for honesty in important relationships.
Third tip: Establish consequences for lying and for honesty. Double the punishment for lies designed to hide wrong doing is one. Reduce the punishment when a kid could lie to cover up a broken rule and does not.
Fourth tip: If lying is pervasive, then institute my “I believe you when I choose to believe you” rule.
Fifth tip: See continuing use of big lies as a sign more is needed. Get professional help.
Life can be hurtful, and those we love often fail and hurt us the most. Staying strong, loving, and caring is not always easy, but parents have two jobs: To teach right from wrong and to preserve a caring relationship with their child. Lying threatens important relationships.
You will find more detailed help in my ebook about lying or in my other books. You can find all listed on my Amazon author’s page. Scroll down the page for a listing of the ebooks. If you buy one, please review.
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