If you sit that close to the TV, you're going to go blind.

If you don't clean your ears, potatoes will grow in them.

If you cross your eyes like that, they'll stay that way.

Parents have been known to say some pretty absurd things to their kids.

Are we lying when we pull out these time-honoured gems about blindness-inducing electronics and ear-loving tubers? Perhaps. But if the phrases work to get our kids' attention and make them do as we ask, is there really any harm?

There very well could be, suggest three researchers who've turned silly parental fibs into an area of intense study.

Gail Heyman, a professor of psychology at UC San Diego, Diem Luu, a former UCSD student, and Kang Lee, professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Institute of Child Study at OISE, have been studying the concept of lying: why kids lie to their parents and why parents in turn lie to kids.

What they've found is not likely to surprise anyone who's ever had children — or parents: parents lie. A lot. And not always in that nice, "white lie" kind of way.

The researchers recently completed a study published this week in theJournal of Moral Education. They looked at two groups: 127 university students; and 127 unrelated parents. The students were asked whether they recalled their parents lying to them and why. They then asked the parents if they'd ever spun a yarn or two.

They found that 88 per cent of the students said they remembered their parents lying to them. And, 78 per cent of the parents admitted they lied to their kids.

The researchers found there were essentially two kinds of lies parents tell. The first are what we call "white lies": those told to spare a child's feelings, or to avoid having to explain something they're not ready to understand.

The tooth fairy would fit into this category. So would "Rover isn't dead; he's just gone to live on a farm." Or the half-hearted "Gee sweetie, I really like your use of line in the way you've scribbled all over your face." They protect children's emotions, to make them feel good or proud of themselves.

The other kind of parental lie is more self-serving: the ones told to make their kids behave. So, when a parent tells a child that if they open the refrigerator door again, it will explode, they're not trying to spare their child's feelings; they just want them to stop opening the bloody fridge door, already. They are lies meant to trigger a specific behaviour, U of T's Lee explained to Canada AM this week.

"The reason we tell these kind of lies is because they often happen in the moment and we don't have better options, so we use something that comes easily," he said.

But oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. The problem with parental lying is that many of these lies scare or confuse children and stick with them long after they should. So a child might grow up still worrying the fridge will explode if they open it too many times, even if intellectually, they know that can't be true.

Parents may think their kids won't remember these little lies, but Lee says his team found that's not always the case.

"Kids have very long memories of the lies. We surveyed college students and many of them remembered vividly the lies their parents told 15 or 20 years before," he said.

The researchers noticed some interesting cultural differences among the lies. For example, while "white lies" were told by parents of all cultures, Asian Americans tended to tell more lies meant to control behaviour. Asian American parents also tended to hold a more favourable view of lying to children for the purpose of promoting compliance, Lee reports.

"That may be because Asian cultures tend to emphasize obedience more than Euro-North Americans," he suggested.

While lying can get kids to obey, the web gets really tangled when parents are telling their kids in one breath that honesty is the best policy and telling them that eating their crusts will put on hair on their chests in the other.

Most of the parents said they promoted honesty, but the majority also admitted they lied, the study found.

"They promote honesty from a very early age, as young as two years old. But at the same time they sometimes tell them lies to make them tell the truth!" said Lee.

This is dangerous ground to be treading upon, Lee suggested, because eventually, most kids will wise up to their parents' deception.

"The problem is that if the child discovers their parents have been lying to them, they may lose trust in their parents' parenting efforts," he said.

But there can be a good side to this, Lee said.

"When kids discover their parents have lied to them, they develop a good sense of scepticism, which is an important part of critical thinking," he noted.

The researchers say that with the stresses and demands of parenting, it's not surprising parents try out a range of strategies, including lying, to get their kids to listen. But perhaps parents should consider the possible long-term negative consequences to their children's beliefs about honesty before they do, the researchers suggest.

Heyman and Lee are now preparing an international study to explore the subject of parental lying further, and are also beginning to study the possible consequences: Does it create confusion about right and wrong? Does it undermine a child's trust? Does it make children worry about vegetables in their ears for longer than they should? Stay tuned. Honestly.


Source: CTV.ca – http://tinyurl.com/ybc8ss8