It never ceases to amaze me how effortlessly children lie. Witness the toddler whose face is covered with crumbs swearing up and down that she hasn't been near the cookie jar. Or the sheepish looking preschooler who denies he broke the window with his whiffle bat. And it does not seem to get better as they get older.
The other day I allowed my two oldest sons to use my ATM card to get some lunch money on a trip to the city. When I asked for the change they said, "But we only cashed $5.00, so there is no change." To which I replied, "You and I both know that the least amount of money you can cash is $10.00. How can you look me right in the eye and lie like that?"
And that's the problem. It's too easy for a liar to look a liee in the eye and tell a whopper. What I find especially distressing is that no one has to teach children how to lie. I have a theory about that. I believe that lying is an inborn survival instinct, and that telling the truth is something which must be taught.
Survival of the Honest?
"It is a survival instinct in the sense that sometimes it's beneficial for an individual to tell the truth and sometimes it's beneficial for them to lie," says Daniel Harrell, PhD. in Developmental Psychology and Associate Minister at Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts. "Whether people choose to tell the truth or not may depend on what they anticipate the consequence of their actions will be."
Confronting children in search of the the truth is never comfortable. They sense that trouble is brewing and they probably think they better come up with something fast to save their skins. Is it easier to deny guilt and hope to get away with it than to admit to an offense and face Mom's wrath?
"You have to deal with the issue of truth before you can deal with lying," says Harrell. "Lying is a deviation from the truth. So, what is the commitment to truth in the first place? If truth has low value, then lying is not that big a thing, especially if there is no threat of retribution as a result."
There have been instances when I have been so eager to know the truth that I have promised to refrain from punishment if a confession is forthcoming. And that makes the situation even more sticky.