Lying to your kids may make them liars

Kids whose parents lie to them are more likely to lie to their parents, even if parents tell only innocent white lies, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

To find out how parental lies can influence their child’s behaviour, researchers in Singapore examined 564 parents and their children aged 11 to 12 years. Researchers focused on both instrumental and white lies, two types of parenting lies common across different cultures. Instrumental lies are false threats or promises, often told to encourage behavioural changes: “If you continue to misbehave, I will call the police” or “If you finish your homework, I will take you to Disneyland.” White lies are told to instil positive emotions in children, such as complimenting a child for a job well done, even though that is not true.

Both parents and kids answered questions about their lying behaviour and how often they thought they were lied to. The more children were told instrumental lies, the more likely they were to lie to their parents, irrespective of whether the children knew they were being lied to.

Instrumental lies may teach children that such lies are effective to achieve a certain purpose and encourage them to lie as well. Also, since instrumental lies are often coercive in nature, they may strain parent-child relationships and increase the likelihood of children lying to their parents. White lies, however, promoted lying behaviour in children only if they knew they were being lied to.

“Given that parents are role models and educators to their children, parents’ lying behaviours could indirectly encourage children how to lie. These findings should make parents pause when it comes to parenting by lying, even if the lies they tell their children may be interpreted as benign,” the study said.