How many of you remember your two-year-old saying he didn’t write on the walls with crayon (when he did)? Or your 6-year-old saying she brushed her teeth (when she didn’t)? Or your 10-year-old saying he finished his homework (when he didn’t)? Or your 16-year-old saying she didn’t drink alcohol (when she did)? Are all of these white lies normal “lies” or something more sinister?
Now let’s think about what our kids are seeing on media lately – on television, the internet, and smart phones people are lying about some pretty big stuff. But when people lie and cheat, they get caught and punished, right? There actually seems to be an alarming trend happening right now in the public sphere: The trend is that you can lie and then deny it; lie and deny it; and keep lying and deny it – and then get away with it.
So if I am a child or teen or an adult, what am I seeing? What am I hearing? I am learning that it is not a big deal to lie and that you usually don’t get caught. So why not lie about corporate earnings, invasion of privacy, OR where you were, who you were with? OR your resume, your awards and achievements? How about lies about cheating on a test, being underage and drinking alcohol, not doing your homework, not brushing your teeth, or simply coloring the walls? Our initial reactions is there is a big difference between lying about corporate earnings and lying about not doing your homework. Yes, it is a big difference, but it’s a slippery slope and today lies are getting more and more normalized.
Now let’s look at our own behavior. What do you do when you are not charged for all your items at a store? Do you tell a waiter you got too much money back? What do you do when you want to go out with other friends and you already told one friend you would go to the movies with her? Do you tell your kids not to tell their dad or mom what you just did or said and to keep it between you guys?
Are you getting a pit in your stomach while you read this, like me?
Here’s the deal: Our kids are growing up in a fast-pace modernized tech culture where people with power and money lie and get away with it. It happens everywhere and in all businesses – big and small, and across professions and sectors. Are our values eroding? Do nice guys (and honest guys) really finish last? I certainly don’t think so and I hope not!
It is time all of us (especially parents) hold ourselves accountable for what is happening in our own family. We must model honesty and moral behavior.
Values start in the home, and then we take those values out in the world. The only way to counteract what is happening regularly in the media is to talk about it and model something different. Our kids are watching and listening to everything we do and say. Is a “white lie” innocent? Or is any lie the beginning of sociopathic behavior? In most cases, innocent lies are just that - innocent.
It is normal for little kids and older kids to lie. Young children develop imaginations, learn that things are right and wrong, and see what they can get away with by pushing the envelope with innocent or small lies. Older children often continue with this strategy of weaving “tall tales” like having a unicorn for a pet or a dog eating their homework. Kids with learning challenges and attentional issues may also “lie” about doing their homework and their grades because school is hard for them. It doesn’t mean it is right to lie, but it is a normal reason and a developmental stage. What I am saying is that this stage of testing boundaries with lying is normal and it depends on your child’s age and developmental profile, but even so we still need to deal with it as parents and address the concept of truth and teach right from wrong.
Here is what I am thinking about and talking about right now to my three teenage kids and their friends:
· Lying is NOT okay
· Your words (and your values) are everything
· Being an honest and trustworthy person matters
· Powerful and wealthy people often lie — and they get away with it but this does not mean we should lie
· Do the right thing, not the easy thing
Parents must model the right values and then expect those values from our kids. Our children are the future adults and future leaders.
We are raising the caretakers of the future. Truth can — and must — lead.