We all have our own approach to parenting, shaped by our beliefs, our lifestyles, and – perhaps more than we like to think – our own upbringing. But science can sometimes upset our fondly held ideas.
For example, a new study suggests that authoritarian parents may just be teaching their children to be better liars.
The research was carried out in west Africa by Dr. Victoria Talwar of McGill University. She went to two very different schools, one with strict discipline and the other with a more liberal approach, and played a game with the children. The kids were left alone in a room, and had to guess what a hidden object was from the sound it made. However, one object was accompanied by a completely unrelated sound (for example, a baseball which squawked), so that the children couldn’t possibly get the answer right unless they’d cheated, and peeked.
When she came back into the room, she asked the kids what the object was, and whether they’d peeked or not. She found that students at the disciplinarian school were much more likely to lie, and did so more quickly and confidently.
The suggestion is that fear of punishment just trains children to tell lies. However, there’s a twist. Talwar, a recognized expert in the field of children’s cognitive development, doesn’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Lying is an essential social skill, and an important marker of psychological development.
When young children first tell lies, they don’t even consider whether their claims might be plausible.
Video: a dad confronts his paint-smeared kids (VPN needed)
Later, they’ll take into account what the person they’re talking to knows, and later still they’ll blend truth and fiction to make their story more believable. All this requires increasingly sophisticated understanding and imagination.
Talwar isn’t proposing that we tell our children fibbing is OK. Little white lies are part of life, but there are social costs to telling untruths which they need to understand. However we shouldn’t panic if their first response when caught is: “a big boy did it and ran away…”
Anyway, I asked my own children, and they assured me that they never lie to me at all. So that’s all right…
Photo: Adina Voicu via Pixabay