For the near future it will be Lance Armstrong, all the time and everywhere, confessing his history of lying and revenge against those who tried to tell the truth. For those of us who cheered his wins, his recovery from cancer and the Livestrong Foundation, it is heartbreaking that his successes were built on a mountain of deceit and dishonesty.
Make no mistake--our children are listening and watching. Research, such as that by Daniel Anderson at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, shows that we may think the media is "background noise," but it is not to children. As they have breakfast with the TV on or travel to school with the radio on or see the headlines in the paper, they are paying attention to Armstrong's story.
This is our opportunity to use this story to teach our children our values about telling the truth.
It begins with knowing what the truth is.
For very young children (and clearly some adults), the difference between fantasy and reality is blurred. If they really want to believe something--they want to believe it so much--they can begin to believe that it is true.
I remember my daughter in preschool liking a drawing that another child drew so much that she took it, wrote her name on it and brought it home as hers. It wasn't until months later when the creator of the drawing visited our home, that I realized what had happened. Although my first instinct was to shame or blame her, I--when I calmed down--realized it was an opportunity to teach. I used a problem solving technique to help me figure out what to do (the skill of critical thinking).
1. Identify the problem.
I realized that my daughter wanted to believe something so much that eventually she did believe it. She wasn't a bad person--she was learning the difference between fantasy and reality.
2. Determine the goal. My goal was to teach my daughter the difference between what we believe and what is true.
3. Come up with alternative solutions. Blame, yell, punish, give a lecture, tell her that she could say, "I wish I had made that drawing. I can ask my friend to show me how she did it. I can ask her if I can have it."
4. Consider how these alternative solutions might work. I liked giving her words to use when she wanted something, but it wasn't enough. She wasn't going to learn this through one experience so I decided to go to the library and get lots of books on lying. We could read them and talk about the characters in the story--what they did do and what they SHOULD have done--always safer than talking about oneself.
5. Select a solution to try. I decided to weave books about lying into our regular reading time.
6. Evaluate the solution and if it doesn't work, select another solution to try. As parents we are learning and gaining skills, just like children. And making mistakes is all part of learning.
After helping children figure out what truth is, you need to help children know the difference between right and wrong.
In the case of my daughter, we had many morality discussions in reading the children's books. I found it was important not just to say that something was wrong, but to talk about WHY it is wrong. For children who are old enough, the Lance Armstrong story provides so much evidence that his lying hurt so many others, was unfair in the competitions, debased this sport and so much more.
Finally, there needs to be some consequence for lying.
Saying "I'm sorry," is a beginning but can be a cop out too. So I think children should have to DO something that helps them better understand the person whom they have affected (the skill of perspective taking).
When my son and a friend stuffed nasty notes into the mail box of a child who had just moved in across the street--saying hurtful things about him that weren't true, I arranged a number of times for him to get to know this child--to take him with us places or invite him over. Research such as that by Karen Wynn and Paul Bloom at Yale shows that morality is affected by relationships--we can be less kind to people whom we feel are different than we are.
How are you handling the Lance Armstrong situation with your kids? What are you teaching your children about lying? How? Share your stories -- we can all help each other be better parents!