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Shocking: Most Parents Lie to Their Children to Get Them to Behave

Posted by Kara Baskin  January 21, 2013 03:00 PM

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Most of us teach our kids that lying is always bad (unless you're telling a friend that her new haircut is lovely even though she looks like she stuck her finger in a toaster, etc.). However: New research from the University of California, published by the International Journal of Psychology, makes hypocrites out of us. According to the research, "The vast majority of parents lie to their children in order to get them to behave." Busted.

This practice is most common in China, according to the research, where 98 percent of parents report lying to their kids; 84 percent of American parents report doing the same. ("A possible explanation for this difference is that Chinese parents are more likely than in the U.S. to demand compliance from their kids, and will go to greater lengths to make it happen," reports Science Daily, whose writers clearly have not observed me trying to get Andrew to stop watching Dora the Explorer.)

Across both cultures, though, the reasons for lying were pretty similar. On the one hand, parents want to promote positive feelings in their kids, with harmless fantasies like the Tooth Fairy and Santa. But lying is also a disciplinary short cut: "Parents in both countries reported telling lies about a wide range of similar topics, including ones designed to influence their children's eating habits, or to dissuade children's pleas for toys or treats when shopping ... and false threats to abandon a child who refuses to follow the parent while away from home." Maybe this is the modern-day equivalent of, "If you don't stop fighting with your brother, I'm turning this car around right now!"?

I lied to Andrew the other day, and I still feel sorry about it. Brian was away for the night, and Andrew wouldn't go to sleep. Finally, at 2 a.m., exhausted, I told him that if he just closed his eyes, when he woke up, Daddy would be home. He dutifully obeyed. Unfortunately, Daddy didn't come home til 4 o'clock the next afternoon. Andrew's still running around the house yelling, "I close my eyes; Daddy come home!" Hopefully, I haven't scarred him for life.

What kinds of lies do you tell your kids? Do you think it's a necessary evil or a lazy parenting shortcut?

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About the author

Kara Baskin (@kcbaskin) is a Boston-based writer, editor, and mom to Andy. She thinks Sriracha and garlic make everything tastier. She loves Steely Dan and "Murder, She Wrote." Her More »

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