Most parents 'lie to their children'


People share some of lies they have told, or been told while growing up

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Most parents tell lies to their children as a tactic to change their behaviour, suggests a study of families in the United States and China.

The most frequent example was parents threatening to leave children alone in public unless they behaved.

Persuasion ranged from invoking the support of the tooth fairy to telling children they would go blind unless they ate particular vegetables.

Another strategic example was: "That was beautiful piano playing."

The study, published in the International Journal of Psychology, examined the use of "instrumental lying" - and found that such tactically-deployed falsehoods were used by an overwhelming majority of parents in both the United States and China - based on interviews with about 200 families.

'I'll buy it next time'

The most commonly used lie - popular with both US and Chinese families - was parents pretending to a child that they were going to walk away and leave the child to his or her tantrum.

"The pervasiveness of this lie may relate to the universality of the challenge parents face in trying to leave a place against their child's wishes," say the researchers.

Another lie that was common in both countries was the "false promise to buy a requested toy at some indefinite time in the future".

Start Quote

Your pet went to live on your uncle's farm where he will have more space to run around”

End Quote Well-intentioned or immoral? An example of what parents told their children

Researchers established different categories of these untruths.

There were "untrue statements related to misbehaviour", which included: ''If you don't behave, I will call the police," and: "If you don't quiet down and start behaving, the lady over there will be angry with you.''

If these seem rather unheroic examples of parenting by proxy threat, there are some more startling lies recorded.

Under the category of "Untrue statements related to leaving or staying" a parent was recorded as saying: "If you don't follow me, a kidnapper will come to kidnap you while I'm gone."

There were also lies motivated by protecting a child's feelings - labelled as "Untrue statements related to positive feelings."

This included the optimistic: "Your pet went to live on your uncle's farm where he will have more space to run around."

A rather self-serving untruth was used for a quick getaway from a toy shop: ''I did not bring money with me today. We can come back another day."

There was also a selection of lies relating to "fantasy characters", also used to enforce good behaviour, such as in the run-up to Christmas.

'Broccoli makes you taller'

The study found no clear difference between the lies used by mothers and fathers, according to researchers, who were from psychology departments at the University of California San Diego in the US, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua in China and the University of Toronto, Canada.

Tooth fairy The tooth fairy, bringing wishes to stressed parents

Although levels of such "instrumental lying" were high in both countries, they were highest in China.

The study found there was an acceptance of such lies among parents when they were used as a way of reinforcing desirable social behaviour.

For example, the lie told to children that they would grow taller for every bite of broccoli was seen as encouraging healthy eating habits.

The study raises the longer-term issue of the impact on families of such opportunistic approaches to the truth. It suggests it could influence family relationships as children get older.

The researchers, headed by Gail D. Heymana, Anna S. Hsua, Genyue Fub and Kang Leeac, concluded that this raises "important moral questions for parents about when, if ever, parental lying is justified".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Anyone fancy trying to explain the difference between a lie and a threat to these learned academics could lead to two new "studies" on the obvious...

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    If parents lie, then they shouldn't tell their kids not to lie!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The most commonly told lie of blindness doesn't result from not eating vegetables; ask any politician.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    It's only a lie if the parent knows it is not true so religion does not count.
    There is nothing really wrong with these lies. I think it is part of growing up and when the child realises they have lied to but that it was not done maliciouly that is when they maturing and should not be lied to anymore (except about the things they want to be lied to about).

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    One of the biggest lies told to children is religious beliefs. This is one of the most damaging factors to children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Try to reason with a toddler, you will lose all your sanity. But don't make big lies that you cannot make up to - telling your kid you would buy him/her something if he/she behaves. If you fail to do so, you lose that trust. Think before you open your mouth!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    to alll those religion bashers : teaching your children your own beliefs is not lying.

    also wondering why people are pulling politics into this arena?

    and how about just not saying anything at all when confronted with the smelly man a poster mentioned: you can keep quiet and not need to lie!

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    This is a case of silly over-analysis.

    My parents told me I was the most beautiful child in the world. Over-analysis might show this was (perhaps) not true. I know what they meant, and I know they weren't lying.

    If parents are brutally honest, they'd have to say, "You're average and probably won't achieve anything great." Where does that get anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    How about:
    If you're not good, Santa won't come.
    Most parents lie about this mythical character.

    If you don't stop that, I'll .... (fill gap with punishment parent will not carry out and, as the child knows this, the child does not stop misbehaving.

    Honesty and consistency have got to be key factors in good parenting, no?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Its part of the parental control mechanism.

    Surely taking the time to explain situations rather than give orders is more effective and then less lies are needed.

    Even now in my 30s we still call my mother 'The General'

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    2 Minutes ago
    How much money was wasted on this, yet another pointless study? That's why the country's got no money!
    No money was spent by us. If you read the article it clearly states that the research was conducted by the University of California San Diego in the US, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua in China and the University of Toronto, Canada.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I wonder how the number of parents lying to children compares to the number of children lying to parents?

    It wasn't me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Some of those examples aren't lying. Telling your child a picture they've drawn or their piano playing is beautiful isn't lying.

    Yes, of course a picture drawn by a child isn't going to be stunning to everyone but when they've put their heart and soul into something, it's beautiful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Lies don't always work on children.

    I was told as a child that If i carried on sucking my thumb it would turn into a pigs foot.

    It just made me do it even more out of curosity to see if it would.

    Alas, I have no trotters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    18.Rob B

    Whoever thinks that has obviously never had to get a two year old in the middle of an epic tantrum out of a shop.

    The means justifies the end... Negotiating with a toddler is the definition of insanity!


    It doesn't end at being toddlers.... i use the same lies on my wife.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Re29 kathie. Spot on! How can you educate your own children to be truthful and honest later in life when you fill their heads with lies about "Father Xmas"? . Small wonder then, after setting the example, when your own children become devious and start to tell lies? ....Yes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Of course parents lie to their kids! It would be totally unfair to be honest about the world when they are young...

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Lying to your kids to get them to behave or do as they're told is always a tempting quick answer but counter-productive in the long run as it erodes trust in what you say.

    Better to wait out the tantrum without reacting to it, when they realise it doesn't work they switch tactics.

    Let them realise the best tactic is a reasoned argument and develop their ability to articulate rather than yell

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    How much money was wasted on this, yet another pointless study? That's why the country's got no money!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    While it is gently amusing that people use similar tactics with kids across the world, it's hardly surprising. But who on earth funded or wasted their time actually doing this research?! And whoever who concluded that it raises "important moral questions" has no imagination and no children of their own!


Page 35 of 39


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