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Lies We Tell Kids: Toddler to Teen

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“Liar, Liar, pants on fire…”

The No. 1 job of a parent is to teach our children that honesty is the best policy. We teach them to be honest with their friends, honest with us, and, if they aren’t, well, their pants will ignite.

The truth is, as parents, we are not always practicing what we preach. We lie all of the time. We lie to get our kids to stop making faces at each other (“Your eyes will freeze like that!”), to get them to stop freaking out in public (“The police might come and take you away if you keep screaming.”) and to help make them feel good about themselves (“That is the coolest picture of a train I’ve ever seen. Oh, it’s flower? It’s gorgeous.”).

How about a show of hands from everyone who was ever told they looked good in bangs. See? We’re all victims here.

From toddlers to teens, parents lie to their kids for all sorts of reasons. When they’re toddlers, they’re cute, they’re cherubic and they’re sooooo gullible. We see their bright little faces, and we want to feed that inner light by adding to the magic of the world around them. We also want to protect them from real life, and, to an extent, keep them innocent so we can share in a little part of a world where magic still happens.

When our kids become teenagers our lies are less about maintaining a magical world and more about reinforcing how our children view us. The older they get, the better a handle they have on us as real people. And who wants that? We’ve spent their whole lives shaping how they should view us. Then they go and find that bong in your closet? That ruins everything. Of course you’re going to lie and say it’s Uncle Dave’s.

RELATED: My Kids are Too Honest for Their Own Good

Lying facilitates our job as parents and helps preserve our image as respectable authority figures. Is it right? Maybe not. Is it necessary? Well, if you are anything like me — definitely.

Dr. Kate Roberts says that researchers at MIT have found that kids aren’t as gullible as we’d like to believe. “[They] can in fact sense when parents are lying to them, causing them to distrust the very people who are their caretakers. Children also know when parents are withholding information.”

“Parents need to accept that they can’t protect their children and that lying only leaves children knowing the truth and wondering why parents are lying about it,” Roberts says.

We’ll tell it like it is when it really matters. But perhaps we can keep a few of our little white lies — just to keep the peace.

Of course, I understand there are times when the truth is the right course of action. But what about those times when a little white lie keeps the peace? (And saves your ass.) To that end, I’d like to propose the following pre-fabricated little white lies as a compromise during some of our more challenging parenting moments:

  • The issue: Easter Bunny. What we tell a toddler: He leaves candy and eggs for good girls and boys. What we tell a teen: I didn't take any candy from your basket.
  • The issue: You missed an important party your child was excited about. What we tell a toddler: Sally got sick. She had to cancel. What we tell a teen: Testing you! I wanted to see how responsible you'd be.

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  • The issue: You get a speeding ticket with the kids in the car. What we tell a toddler: Oh, honey, here comes the nice policeman. He wants to say "hello!" What we tell a teen: What?! I never get tickets.
  • The issue: You were a bad student in school. What we tell a toddler: A, B, C, D, G, K, P. I know! That's funny. What we tell a teen: When I was in school, I spent every weekend at the library.
  • The issue: Parent's pregnancy. What we tell a toddler: Your baby sister is in there. God put her there. What we tell a teen: We wanted to get pregnant because we're married and we're in love.
  • The issue: You ran over the cat. What we tell a toddler: Percy ran away. What we tell a teen: Percy ran away.

See? That’s not so bad. We’ll tell it like it is when it really matters. But perhaps we can keep a few of our little white lies — just to keep the peace.

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