So much for telling kids to "always tell the truth." It turns out, toddlers who tell lies do better as adults. Whether this is surprising news about child development, or a sad statement about the kind of society we live in depends on how you define "better."
On one hand, the study of 1,200 children, conducted by the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, found that it means the kiddies have reached an developmental milestone — because lying, and lying well, is a sign of high cognitive development.
The director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, Dr Kang Lee, said: "Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib.
"Their children are not going to turn out to be pathological liars. Almost all children lie.
"It is a sign that they have reached a new developmental milestone.
"Those who have better cognitive development lie because they can cover up their tracks."
This was because they had developed the ability to carry out a complex juggling act which involves keeping the truth at the back of their brains.
He added: "They even make bankers in later life."
Don't be alarmed, he says? And then adds, "They even make bankers later in life"? And this is a good thing?
I don't want to contradict the good doctor, whom I'm sure is far more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, and I understand that lying in and of itself doesn't mean a kid is bound to become a big fraudster later in life.
As adulthood approaches, young people learn instead to use the less harmful “white lies” that everyone tells to avoid hurting people’s feelings.
Researchers say there is no link between telling fibs in childhood and any tendency to cheat in exams or to become a fraudster later in life. Nor does strict parenting or a religious upbringing have any impact.
Healthy, intelligent children learn to lie quicker, but parents have to learn to distinguish between the harmless make-believe — such as an imaginary friend — and the fibs told to protect or better the child.
There is a “Pinocchio peak” about the age of seven after which it is hard to discern whether a boy or girl is lying without evidence.
Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, which carried out the research, said: “You have to catch this period and use the opportunity as a teachable moment.
“You shouldn’t smack or scream at your child but you should talk about the importance of honesty and the negativity of lying. After the age of eight the opportunities are going to be very rare.”
On the other hand, we've had more "teachable moments" lately than anyone wishes to count. Case in point, better to sit your kid down for a little chat before he/she gets a talking to in front of a Senate subcommittee.
Plus, it's not like we haven't had a glut of "teachable moments," lately.
Now, it's probably most likely that your kid won't grow up to be the next Madoff if he says the dog ate his homework. After all, none of the people in the videos above were playground Ponzi schemers. (Or were they?) But it's likely they were adept at lying almost as soon as they learned to talk, and obviously they've never stopped.
So, with apologies to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, it may be time for an update of "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."
Someone should take a stab at lyrics for "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Banksters." Let 'em be child development researchers and such.