Parents have amazing intuition when it comes to their children. We tend to get a little niggling feeling, especially when something is wrong. As much as we’d like to think that we are always on target , we are human and our radar can be off. During these “uncertain” times, deciding what to do can be difficult. If you ever felt that your child was lying but just couldn’t manage to come up with the proof, you can relate to this parent’s question and the answer.
My son, who is ten years old often lies or distorts the truth. Most of the time I can’t prove it even though I have a gut feeling about it. We recently had an argument in which he told me that since I couldn’t provide any evidence that he was lying, that I had no right to accuse him of any wrongdoing. I was telling a colleague of mine about what happens and he felt that my son should always respectfully defer to me even if I’m wrong and that I should put my foot down and insist upon it. I feel confused about whether to follow my feeling that he is lying or if I should give him the benefit of the doubt. What do you say?
Signed, Got a Bad Feeling
Dear Got a Bad Feeling,
Kids tell a “lie” for at least four different reasons. Sometimes kids may see things differently, and their perception may appear as a distortion of the truth. Then there are kids who tell made up stories as an expression of their imagination. This is not done in order to be deceitful; rather it is a part of childish fantasy. Some lies are told in order to avoid disappointing parents (or teacher) and to avoid getting in trouble. Sometimes kids are trying to manipulate, and they rely on various fabrications to do so.
Without knowing your son, or the specific tales he tells, it is impossible for me to even venture a guess as to what is actually going on. Like I detailed earlier, this can be as innocuous as childish fantasy, or immature perception, or it could be the real deal. It’s important to understand what sort of “lies” are told, in order to know how best to deal with it.
If what you are dealing with is immaturity, well believe it or not, kids do grow up, and their perceptions and conversation become less imaginative (sigh). If your child is lying to you so you won’t be angry with him, then you need to put some serious effort into building open communication and trust between you two. Kids who have healthy relationships with their parents are generally less likely to lie to them in order to get out of chores, or in order to sneak off to their girlfriend’s house on a school night. That’s not to say that they won’t ever do that. Even “good” teens need to try out their wings and test boundaries a little. At ten, your son is probably developmentally in that no man’s land between being a child and an adolescent.
From the tone of your letter it seems that you don’t trust your child and he knows it too. If you expect your child to try to pull one over you- he has too! It’s already expected of him, so why tell the truth?
Personally, I think your colleague’s advice will only exacerbate the problem. Certainly children must speak to parents respectfully, and parents should insist on it. Asking a child to always defer to you, even when you are wrong, is actually giving them the green light to lie. The message that many kids will hear from the parent with this attitude is “Always tell me what I want to hear”. The goal is to foster an environment where children, (and pre-teens) can tell their parents anything without being afraid. This does not mean that there are no consequences. What it does mean is that even if a kid goofed, or messed up, their parents will still support them.
You say that you don’t know whether to follow your feeling… or give him the benefit of the doubt. I would recommend spending more time with this child. Talk to him. Do things together. Get to really know him and his world. Most importantly, listen. Don’t judge, just listen. Don’t expect results overnight. It may take time to build trust. He needs to feel he can trust you with the truth. You need to trust him to tell the truth.
I wish you and you son the best of luck!
Odelia Schlisser is a life coach with a Masters Degree in Sociology and a Masters Degree in Education, and is trained in Family Therapy. She currently lectures Psychology and Behavioral Science in Mercy College and has spent the past several years counseling children, teens, parents and teachers.