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Amanda Rock

Study: Parents Often Lie to Get Kids to Get Them to Behave

By January 21, 2013

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Do you ever lie to your children? Before you answer, think carefully.

A new study published in the International Journal of Psychology, found that while most parents teach their children that lying is wrong, 84 percent of U.S. moms and dads lie to their kids so they'll behave.

The study, conducted by Gail Heyman of the University of California-San Diego, followed parents in the U.S. and China. Chinese parents lied to their kids 98 percent of the time to get them to behave, but otherwise, the rate for other types of lies were similar. Researchers speculate that "Chinese parents are more likely than in the U.S. to demand compliance from their kids, and will go to greater lengths to make it happen," according to a press release.

Lies told by parents from both countries include:

  • the existence of fantasy characters like the Tooth Fairy
  • ones designed to influence their children's eating habits
  • dissuade children's pleas for toys or treats when shopping
  • specific lies, such as a false threat to abandon a child who refuses to follow the parent while away from home

The study cautions that parents should think twice before lying to their kids.

"Previous studies have shown that when young children are deciding whom to trust they are sensitive to people's history of being honest or dishonest with them personally, so when parents lie to their children it may undermine the child's sense of trust. These findings suggest parents should choose their battles wisely: is it really that important for them to finish all their peas? Alternative ways to encourage children to behave -- such as a system of rewards -- might have less risk of confusing them with conflicting ideas about honesty. Above all this study shows the need to stimulate debate about the acceptability of lying under different circumstances, and how children should be best raised to understand the value of honesty."

Do you ever lie to your children?

Related: Why Preschoolers Lie

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