Let’s be honest: nearly all kids—from tots to teens—stretch the truth and for all sorts of reasons: avoid punishment, make themselves look or feel better, get out of a task, keep their friend out of trouble, and start lying as young as two or three. Occasional lying is an almost expected part of child development, but whether dishonesty becomes a habit depends largely on how we respond to that lie. Statistics show we may not be doing such a good job.
In fact, 98 percent of teens who believe that honesty is the best policy still lie. An exclusive ABCNEWS Primetime poll of 12- to 17-year-olds, seven in 10 say at least some kids in their school cheat on tests. Six in 10 have friends who've cheated. About one in three say they themselves have cheated, rising to 43 percent of older teens. And most say cheaters don't get caught!
Rather disturbing trends about the state of our children’s honesty quotient, wouldn’t you say?
This is even more puzzling when you consider that for over two decades parents have rated “honesty” as the trait they most wanted in their kids. But here’s the real irony: the most accepted theory of how kids develop the habit is from copying us. There’s one bit of good news: It seems parents still play the most significant role in whether their kids turn out honest—that is as long as you stick to a few premises. Here is how to parent for the change we want so you succeed.
- Do not overreact. One of the biggest reasons kids lie is out of fear. Kids often come clean if they know parents aren’t going to lose their temper. So, stay calm. Give yourself a minute or two to decide where this lie is coming from and if punishment is really warranted. Your response should be based on his age and understanding of honesty. Take into account the nature and seriousness of the lie and if this is a first time or multiple offense.
- Refrain from labeling. Do not label your child “a liar.” It is not helpful and counter-productive. Besides, your child may reason, “Mom says I’m a liar, so I might as well be one.”
For more tips on tackling honesty with your kids, download our guide “Tips to Help Your Kids with Honesty” compiled from parenting experts Dr. Michele Borba, Byron Garrett and Common Sense Media.
Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an educational psychologist and author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World. She has become nationally and internationally renowned for her practical, research-based strategies to help develop healthy children and families.