Sunday, 16 May 2010

It's good to lie

Obviously we should encourage children to be honest at all times and not lie. Or should we? New research has found that children who learn to lie at an early age have better developed brains.

Apparently lying stimulates your thinking and reasoning skills, means you use information more creatively, and forges leadership abilities.

I suppose if you look at what's involved when little Jessica tells you, Oh no of course she wasn't playing with matches, she was combing her dollies' hair, you can deduce she's also using her imagination, ingenuity and acting ability, as well as a sense of coherent explanation and plausibility. Clearly her brain's firing on all cylinders.

According to the Canadian research*, one fifth of children learn to lie by the age of two, and by the age of 12 they're all at it, trying to pull the wool over adult eyes whenever they stand to gain from it.

But even if lying is good for the brain, do we really want to encourage it? Should we really be suggesting to children that fibbing is okay, there's no need to be honest all the time?

Most people find the idea of children lying rather shocking, and actively discourage it, but the reality is that adults lie constantly about all sorts of things and often for good reasons. We don't tell the whole truth about ourselves to employers, or parents, or strangers, or police officers. If we think we'll lose out, we readily alter the facts to our advantage.

So isn't it hypocrisy to expect children to behave differently and never ever make things up? Maybe it is.

And think what it'll do for their future career prospects. If they can learn to lie effortlessly and shamelessly, with a completely straight face, well, crikey, they'll be a top politician in no time.

PS: The major message of the study seems to be that children in general don't get enough mental stimulus and end up getting it from undesirable activities like lying. Which doesn't say much for parenting or schooling.

* The Institute of Child Study at Toronto University tested 1200 children aged from 2 to 16


  1. They learn to lie by 2 years of age? That's amazing, mine could barely talk at two! I guess we all do it in some form or another by omission rather than overt lying but it's rather sad isn't it? My only problem with lying is that you need to remember the lie in order not to be caught out!

  2. There are those for whom lying becomes pathological...I wonder what the story on that is?

    Sometimes lying to adults is the only way children have any power in situations...of course, they rarely consider getting caught out.

  3. Baino - Two's quite late for talking, but I didn't start till I was two either. Glad to hear there's no overt lying, but isn't deliberate omission a kind of lie too?

    e - I guess pathological liars would have a very different brain as they've entirely lost touch with reality. Good point about lying as a power tactic. Children learn about power pretty early on too.

  4. Funny this one, Nick. On my writing courses I have learned that writers are pretty good liars from a very early age.
    And I've taken surveys in the workshops I give and sure enough, us writers are a bunch of creative liars when children (often to protect ourselves).
    Fascinating topic.

  5. When they do lie to me (which is rare at this age) I find that my two sons are awful liars. They don't have a lot of fear of getting in trouble - which is why so many kids lie. Not that they don't have consequences, because they do, but I find it so much more productive to set kids up for success so they don't feel the need to lie. Then they can be creative without being deceptive.

  6. www - So if you want to be a writer, first learn to be a brilliant liar? I have to admit I tell a few lies myself - for excellent reasons of course.

    Liz - That sounds good, encouraging their development in more healthy ways and at the same time avoiding the need to lie. You're lucky they're such bad liars you can see straight through them!

  7. The devil's in the detail... they need to learn when a big fat lie is better than the slender truth.

  8. The trouble with one white lie is it leads to another and another and another and.....!

  9. In teaching values to children, parents often act different to what they preach. This conflicting signal is what turns children into congenital liars. For instance, the child is told not to lie but sees her parents lying all the time.

  10. Scarlet - A big fat lie is always best. Did I ever tell you I slept with Madonna?

    Grannymar - I absolutely love that outfit you're wearing. The shoes are sensational. And I adore the new hairdo.

    Ramana - Of course children notice those contradictions much more quickly than adults. And they realise they can invent things too, just like mummy and daddy.

  11. We are crazy people aren't we? We bring our kids up to enjoy fairytales and then tell them off for lying!!!!

  12. Kate - Nice one! My goodness, we'd better ban fairytales rightaway, they're a thoroughly bad influence!

  13. For kids in abusive homes, lying is a very necessary skill for self-protection And lying to spare feelings is sometimes a good thing. When I hear people say "One thing I hate is a liar" I want to ask them if they are comfortable with their own hypocrisy. I am not advocating whole sale lying, but I am pretty disgusted by people who use a sanctimonious adherance to "truth" to mask hostile telling of their opinions.

  14. Secret Agent - I'm sure you're right about abusive homes, and sparing feelings too. I hadn't thought about people using the idea of honesty to justify their own hostility. But yes, I've seen a few examples of that.