Catch Me If You Can
Most parents want their children to think creatively, but don't want them to tell blatant lies. Sometimes, a parent's strategy for discouraging lies, however, ends up having the opposite affect from the one intended. Instead of encouraging truthfulness, parents promote the practice of lying.
A procedure that motivates children to become better liars involves giving them plenty of opportunity to practice. It goes like this. First, catch them doing something wrong, but don't tell them you know they did it, that you have indisputable evidence of the wrongful act. Then invite them to lie. Give them plenty of opportunity to back themselves into a corner before you confront them with your evidence. Some well-intended parents use this strategy to catch their child in a lie. Perhaps they believe catching the child in the act of lying is a chance to prove the child is a liar and a way to demonstrate how lying doesn't work. The child is no match for the parent, and the child will not get away with it. Unfortunately, the child knows lying does work sometimes, and the parent has only promoted the practice of lying.
A variation of this procedure can be used to encourage creative thinking. For example, asking the four year old with raspberry jam all over her face if she knows who ate the raspberry tart that was left on the table gives her a chance to create a story about how the Beanie Baby ate it. We might find the story harmless, humorous and delightfully creative. Both parent and child know who really ate the tart, and each knows the other knows. They willingly and knowingly participate in a, create a fantasy game that's fun for both.
The game can be harmful however when the stakes are high and the players are serious.
When your thirteen year old daughter who has been told she's not allowed to ride in cars with teen aged drivers is secretly observed getting out of her boyfriend's car, the situation is serious. When she's asked what time did Mrs. Jones pick you up from the movie theater, she's convinced she didn't get caught in the wrongful act, and encouraged to participate in a high stakes deception. She answers the question asked, I think it was about seven thirty. Then how come you didn't get home until past eight thirty? her father inquires. She, now embellishing the story, responds, we all stopped for ice cream after the movie. Oh how nice, responds father, appearing to be making pleasant conversation, and how many kids were there? Ah, there were four of us, Jimmy, Patrick, Allison, and me. That's funny, says dad, now risking a lie of his own, I just talked with Allison's mother, and she said Allison stayed home because she wasn't feeling well. Oh, I forgot it wasn't Allison, it was Jenny, the daughter answers. Theresa, you've just got to stop this lying. I gave you lots of chances to tell me the truth, and you chose to lie to me over and over again. How can I be expected to trust you? I saw you getting out of Jimmy's car and there was no one else in it, bellows father.
There is no humor in this father daughter interaction. This well-meaning father was working way too hard. Perhaps he should have been satisfied with teaching one lesson at a time. The father's direct and honest confrontation with evidence of the daughter's disobedience would eliminate the girl's opportunity to add lying to her list of wrongful deeds.
The method used to teach creative thinking and blatant lying is similar. Creative thinking is taught in a context of cooperation, trust, and good-natured fun. Blatant lying however, is taught in a high stakes contest between parent and child and neither can trust the other to be honest.
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