Why You Should Lie To Your Children July 30, 2009

Why You Should Lie To Your Children

Dale McGowan makes a case for why parents should (in moderation and for a purpose) lie to their children in his latest column for Humanist Network News:

When my youngest asked, “How far away is the Sun?”, I said, “Twenty feet,” precisely so she would look at me and say, “Dad, you dork!!” When my kids ask what’s for dinner, I often say, “Monkey lungs, go wash up.” When the fifth grader doing her homework asks what seven times seven is, I sometimes say 47, because she should (a) know that on her own by now, and equally important, (b) know the wrong answer when she hears it.

Yes, yes, I make sure they end up with the right answer when it matters, and no, I don’t do this all the time. They’d kill me. But pulling our kids’ legs once in a while is more than just fun and games. For one thing, if every word from my mouth was a reliable pearl of factuality, they would get the unhelpful message that Authority Always Tells the Truth.

… By seeing to it that their childhood includes nonsense, and that some of it even comes from authority figures, I’m building their immune systems for a lifetime swimming in the stuff.

Atheist parents, especially, should teach their children that just because an adult says something doesn’t always mean it’s true.

The same thing applies to people who wear special clothing, or appear in front of a large audience, or sound like they know something the rest of us don’t. If they say something that doesn’t make sense or that you have doubts about, they should be questioned.

What a great lesson to teach them when they’re young.

(via Humanist Network News)

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  • Gabriel

    I often do the same. They get a kick out of it and they learn to question answers and not just blindly accept. Of course that back fires when I just want them to do something. They no longer accept “because I told you so.” As a valid reason. They also don’t accept “Because I said it was.” As a valid answer.

  • Revyloution

    My hero!

    That’s how I parent too! Its great to see what kind of trick questions I can throw at the offspring.

    The real reward is the look in their eye when you try to sneak one past them, and they catch it. She’s on antibiotics right now, and I asked her “so, how many virus do you think are being killed by the penicillin right now?”

    She started thinking about how I told her about the billions of virus that live in her, when she stopped, smiled, and said ‘Daddy, antibiotics kill bacteria, not virus!”

  • Chal

    It’s like building up a bullshit immunity. 😀

  • ChrisO.

    My uncle used to tell us that Kool-Aid came out of a particular, red, water tower. My grandpa bet us he could beat us running on one leg. When he ran on both legs, he explained that he was using ‘one leg at a time.’

  • Jim Baerg

    On a related note: Have you read about the concept of “lies to children”, that Terry Pratchet, Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen, talk about in _The Science of Diskworld_?


  • Indigo

    My ex-boyfriend’s father used to tell his niece and nephews the most ridiculous stories on exactly these grounds. Unfortunately, their method of determining “is Uncle Nick feeding us a line of bullshit” was “is someone in the room trying very hard not to laugh?”

  • Forget children, I do this to everyone.

  • CS

    Funny how this subject came up. I found this today:


  • I don’t know. Sometimes children can get very confused when you use this tactic on them. I remember things like “I’ll never beat you up again” or “I don’t know where your favourite book is, but I would give it back if I knew” or “the doctor won’t hurt you” turn out to be lies. I even concluded that this was because I had two moms, a good one and an evil one, and the evil one did what the good one promised not to do. Of course this is bonkers, but I was a small child, what did I know? I had access to the internet and the library but I only learned about my interests and favourite topics, not human social behaviour.

  • My wife and I were actually just talking about this today. We do the same thing, and I think it’s a great way to teach skepticism and to make kids really think about what adults say, rather than just accept that whatever an adult says must be true.

    Hmm, that reminds me of why I love Avatar: the Last Airbender so much… in it, the adults–even the good, wise mentors–are not always right, and the kids have to learn to make moral judgments on their own

  • gmcfly

    There was a Calvin and Hobbes strip like this: http://users.physics.uoc.gr/~vassilis/calvin/

  • atomjack

    Being smart helps…yes, I know, we all think our kids are smart, but how about coming away from a Cub Scout meeting and having your 8-year old tell you that one of the leaders “Doesn’t know what he’s talking about”? Which was true, sadly enough. But the kid caught the error, at age 8. We try to give fellow people the benefit of the doubt, but ignorance (especially willful) should be bopped right on the nose with the fact bat.

  • Karen

    I’m all about silly nonsense with my kids, but only when it’s something where they can pick up on the joke.

    They became very adept at “going along” with mom’s story about the tooth fairy or some such goofiness when they were younger.

  • Dan W

    Now that’s actually a pretty smart thing to do. I’ll try to remember that in the event that I have kids. It is, as Chal put it, like building up a bullshit immunity. It’s brilliant!

    I liked the link to the Calvin and Hobbes comics. Of course, Calvin’s dad makes up bullshit because he doesn’t know the real answers.

  • Matt D

    anybody who didnt click on the link from CS should do it, DO IT NOW!!

    too funny

  • Eww monkey lungs.

    I agree with miller, this is how I treat everyone. Credulity should be challenged otherwise we’d all be giving our money to Nigerian “lawyers”.

  • Todd

    I do this constantly with my kids, mostly because I’m a wise ass, but also for the very reason you and McGowan mention. They both roll their eyes and groan when I do it, which is exactly what I hope they do when someone tries to convince them that they need Jesus.

  • The only problem is that anyone with any worldview can do this. “Who parted the Red Sea?” “Jesus” “No Mom, it was Moses!”

    It is a good way to keep them thinking critically, but it’s the initial foundation that determines how they will react.

  • Carlie

    I do this too – to address rodiel’s point, I try to give them definite cues that I’m lying, the better for them to identify sarcasm and teasing tones of voice and body language. That part’s especially important to me as one of my kids is on the autism spectrum, so he needs the exaggerated and repeated practice of finding the clues that someone is lying to him. We also rip apart marketing lies in commercials in such, which also helps develop that skeptical mindset. 🙂

  • Jude

    There’s no way I would ever do this. I think that lies are the problem with the world. For example, although my kids wanted to believe in Santa Claus, I didn’t foster the idea. I told them they could believe in Santa Claus if they wanted to, but I didn’t. I didn’t put fake presents under the tree that said, “From Santa.” That is the worst kind of lying to me. I think that you should be able to trust your mom to tell you the truth. I was watching Mad Men on DVD with my son and his friend and I stopped it to give them a history lesson about the Cuban Missile Crisis. My son said, “Mom, you should have been a history teacher.” History is filled with nuances and lies. They need to be critically able to evaluate information, but if you get the lecture from someone who is honest, you have a head start. Lying isn’t funny.

  • Twin-Skies

    So basically, toss in the occasional obvious lie to your kids when they ask questions, and encourage them to seek out the truth.
    I love it!

  • As a Christian I agree that children should be taught how to think logically and reasonably and given exercises to enhance their thinking. I think kids should learn to think critically about any subject, but not so skeptical that they don’t ever assent to anything as truth. To stand against everything is to stand for nothing and people need to latch on to something true. Living in constant distrust of all things is unhealthy as believing something that is false.

  • skinman

    My oldest daughter developed a BS detector about two years ago…when she was four. I’m all for this, but I do make sure to come clean.

    And that email that CS linked, oh man. That teacher would get an earful. And one less student in his class.

  • That, and how can you help it when they ask what that “no P” sign means? 😉

  • I have always done this with most people I know, particularly my daughter. As a result, she always checks my facts to see if I’m BSing her or not. Now that my daughter is in high school I don’t always tell her when I am BSing and she has not caught it. If she tries to use something I have said as fact in a conversation with someone else and gets called on it then she has learned a valuable lesson.

    Note: Since my daughter is a teenager now so I do not feel it is wrong to do this. Besides 9 out of 10 times she busts me anyways.

  • Nemo

    I’m with Jude. I think parents lie to kids too much as it is (Santa Claus, etc.). Absolutely I want to teach them to be skeptical, but not by making myself into an intentionally unreliable source.

    But, to Karla the Christian: No, it isn’t.

  • Mexicoforester

    i highly disagree with your statement telling your kids that santa is real gives them hope and something to belive in wile their young!

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