Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Michael Josephson: Character Counts: Parenting by lying

  A new study titled “Parenting by Lying” reports that the vast majority of parents tell their children that lying is wrong. Nevertheless, almost all parents admit they lie to their children for a wide variety of reasons. In addition to lies concerning fantasies about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, parents lie to influence behavior and manipulate emotions.

  Parents make up all sorts of lies to get their children to behave. Many parents admit to telling their kids that something bad, sometimes something very bad, will happen if they don’t brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, go to sleep, or stop crying. Threats included: a monster will get you, you’ll get pimples, or the police will take you away. Sometimes the lie promised something nice: you’ll become a beautiful princess or you’ll develop superpowers.

  Parents also make up lies so their children won’t worry about their dad who lost a job or an upcoming divorce or to make them feel better about a dog that ran away (“He’s at a farm in the country”), an uncle who died (“He turned into a star to look out for you”), or their dad who was sent to prison (“He died a hero in a fire”).

  I wasn’t surprised that parents lie to their children. After all, I recently told how I lied to my 4-year-old when she thought she was going to die from swallowing a blue stone. What struck me is how often parents lie and how careless, cruel, or shortsighted some of their falsehoods are. What’s more, many lies are totally unnecessary and unguided by any moral or practical principle. I’ll talk more about his tomorrow.

  This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is the founder of the Josephson Institute, a non-for-profit organization which develops and delivers services and materials to increase ethical commitment, competence, and practice in all segments of society.

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