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Why Parents Lie About Their Child's Age

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On Huffington Post Parents last week, NYU researcher danah boyd unveiled new data about how many parents lie about their children's age to sign them up for Facebook. Answer: Lots.

Which leads to the question, when else are parents lying about the ages of their kids?

It is harder to lie than it used to be. That's because the biggest reason for fibbing was on airlines, back before telling the truth became considered a matter not of dollars but of national security (and also before airlines stopped charging less for all but literal babes in arms.) Sports teams, likewise, now require birth certificates so that junior isn't given an advantage over the smaller kids.

In other categories, in turn, lying is less necessary. Children's menus seem to have fewer age limits nowadays (and this adult can vouch for the fact that adults have been known to order the grilled cheese or child sized sundaes for themselves.)

In many places, though, I'd wager that lying is becoming more common, and those growing pockets of mendacity also reflect ways in which the world has changed. In a tighter economy it is far more tempting to say your three-year-old is two if that saves the entire admission price at an amusement park, or 11 instead of 12 if that's the difference between a child and adult ticket at the movies. In an era where both parents need to work, those who their child to be accepted into the after school program, or the full day summer camp, or any other child care arrangement that is just a few months beyond reach, have been known to round upward by a few months. Sympathetic parents, in turn, lie for the tween who really wants to be included in the teen group at resort programs, or church retreats or sleep away trips. We lie indirectly when giving our children permission to see that PG-13 movie, and more directly when we walk them into the R movie then leave them there with friends and return to pick them up hours later.

And we lie for reasons that have far more to do with our own doubts and insecurities. In a memorable essay in Babble earlier this fall, Alisha McKinney writes of shaving four months off her 17-month-old son's age, rather than face questions from strangers about why he wasn't yet walking. As she wrote:

It started small, as most lies do. I'd round down his age down to the nearest month, shaving off a few precious developmental weeks. "Oh," the parents would sigh, relief flooding their faces. "That makes more sense." Gone were the furrowed brows and awkward talk of early intervention. Suddenly we could gab about normal things like nap schedules and vegetable aversion. I was happy. They were happy. And my son didn't understand what I was saying so, hey, happy.  

We are not the only ones who lie about our kids ages, of course. In time, they do too. Fake IDs anyone? They make themselves older, because older is better, until they hit that first birthday when they find they'd prefer to forget the exact number. By then their parents are ratcheting downward, too. After all, it's a dead giveaway that you aren't in your 30s if you have a child in his 20s.

Or, as I said on my son's last birthday, "how can I possibly have a 20-year-old son? Are you sure he isn't lying about his age?"

How old are your children? Are they always the age you say they are?