I recently ran across the article 20 Lies Parents Tell Their Children and the title intrigued me as I have often had a list running through my own head. After reading it, I was simply left disappointed. This area of great importance was sadly wasted on many points that are not, in fact, lies but instead seemed to be used as a platform for a presumably bitter man.
In an attempt to fill the void and really bring out the genuine issue of the cultural norm of lying to our children, I wanted to throw together my own list of lies told by many parents. Some may be told with positive intentions, but that does not discount the fact that lies are confusing and are never warranted, especially to those who rely on us to learn about the wide world they are attempting to navigate.
- Santa is real (or the Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy, or any other obvious fictional character). This topic is certainly a hot button issue around the holidays. Many stand firm in elaborate fabrications to keep their children believing the lies year after year claiming that it is the magic of the season or necessary for a child’s innocence. But no matter what the purpose behind it, the truth is that these parents are lying to their children each and every time they say this. There is no other way to look at it. “Santa brought you these presents” is as blatant a lie as “I am a platypus.”
- You should never talk to strangers. A common sentiment of our culture, parents adamantly tell this to their children. But it is a lie and it confuses countless children as their parents demand they answer the pleasant cashier who just asked their name or inform their children of who to go to when they get lost. The reality is that children should talk to strangers and parents are often very aware of these situations as they tell their children the opposite. There are very real dangers in silencing them from never speaking to anyone they do not know well so tell them the truth: you should most certainly talk to strangers in these necessary scenarios [insert continued conversation here]
- You have to go to school. No they don’t. “I am choosing to send you to school” or “my financial situation requires that you go to school” or “I believe it is best for you to go to school” would all be more accurate statements. To tell your children that they have to go to school is a lie that removes parents from the responsibility of the choices they themselves make. It tells the children that it is outside of their control in order to get them to go to school without question. If we told them the truth, then perhaps (especially older children) could work for themselves to come up with alternatives to their education. There are a lot of alternatives. Children just need to know the truth in order to seek them if they wish too. Children do not have to go to school. Their parents choose to send them.
- You have to share your toys. Much like telling children they have to go to school, telling them they have to share is simply not true. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. “I am making you share your toys” is the reality. By telling them that they have to give someone else their things based on your personal feelings is to rob them of very necessary boundary lessons which they will carry for the rest of their lives. By telling them the truth which is that they can choose to share while pointing out what may happen (in truth, not in threat) if they do not, the parent gives the child a very important lesson in reality which will serve them much better in their future years.
- Just be yourself and they’ll like you. The truth? Just be yourself and they might like you or they might hate you. Many children are told that just being themselves will be enough to gain friends or get rid of bullies. When their experiences show them otherwise, they assume what their parents have said is true and that something is wrong with who they are, thus they opt out of being themselves. If children were told the truth which is that being themselves may lead to people still not liking them, which is not a problem with them but rather the other person, then they may be less apt to alter themselves to fit the lie they have been fed.
Each of these lies sound catchy and well-intentioned, but the reality is that they are lies that children cling strongly to for life. As parents, our words are very strong tools to reaching our children and catchy phrases and concepts spewed over and over for years as truths become deeply ingrained causing confusion as the reality hits and they are left with dealing with the words they have been taught by their most trusted loved ones versus their own personal experiences.
By omitting lies altogether and simply giving our children complete truths, we build bonds, gain deeper trust and set our children up for a lifetime of successes instead of a lifetime of trying to figure out what truth really is.