I'm passionate about philosophy, but after having my girls I'm even more passionate about Mommy Matters

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Lying to Children

     Husband and I have conversations sometimes concerning possible lies, fibs, altered truths, or myths we might be telling our children as they grow. These might include lying about the existence of the Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, etc. Others may have to do with more difficult topics that are beyond a child's understanding, such as sex and what other words they hear on T.V. actually mean. This could include simply making some things more black and white than they actually are, such as saying that tattoos, smoking, drinking alcohol, swearing etc. are just plain bad. I wonder though, honestly, where the line is and when it is "OK" to lie to our kids and when they would be better off just knowing the truth from an early age. 

     To an innocent child, all the world is painted black and white, it is good vs. evil, good guys vs. bad guys, and there is not very much room for anything gray. As we grow we come to understand little by little how the world actually is and suddenly we look around as an adult to find that most things are gray, with very little in existence that is actually defined as simply black or white. Even things we might see as black at first, such as lying, can actually be white (thus a "white" lie). Obviously this in and of itself is a difficult concept to understand even for adults because many adults tell lies they think are white, or they convince themselves that they are white, but in fact they are black lies, or at the very least much closer to gray than they are willing to admit. Some adults still see the world as black and white, which is why there are people, fictional and non-fictional, like Javert in Les Misérables. These characters are not willing to budge in order to see another person's point of view or simply admit that there is a time and a place for things like white lies. Other people are on the opposite extreme and are willing to let all of the rules go, inducing chaos and anarchy because if everything in the world is gray then why should we even try to regulate or categorize? 

     So where is the happy medium and how do we teach our children to seek it out instead of either extremes? Maybe when lying we should try to get as close to the truth as possible, but on a level better for children to manage. Then the transition from this level to the next adult level of truth will not be such a big step. For instance, if a five year old asks, "What is sex?" or "Where do babies come from?" We aren't going to give them the entire truth because that would just be too graphic and hard for a child to comprehend. I mean, who honestly wants to imagine their parents making them in the literal and most truthful way even as an adult? It's gross and weird. However, that doesn't mean we have to necessarily give them the kind of lie that is all fluff and too childish that it can't develop into the truth someday, such as explaining that they were simply dropped on the door step. This also leads to a separation of child and parent that shouldn't be there, I think kids should still understand that their parents helped to create them, he/she wasn't just a surprise some bird brought one day. 

     This is a hard task though, still trying to figure out what is appropriate and what isn't, how much of the truth should be told at what age. It is just easier for children to lump things into two different categories, black or white. However, maybe this is why when we are adults it is hard to accept and comprehend variation. We always want to categorize things, label them, because that is the most comfortable way of dealing with the unknown. Gray is still lumped into a category of gray. If something is variable, we ask ourselves what it is closest to and call it that. The saying "It looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck" comes to mind here. What if it looks like a duck but doesn't walk like a duck, is it still a duck? Yes, it is just a deformed or odd duck. Just because a human can't walk or can't reproduce or something like that, doesn't mean he/she isn't a human. It does mean that they have some added label or are deformed though, not a completely "normal" human. I'm not sure this is the best way to look at the world at all. Maybe it starts with parents introducing variation at an early age in order to tone down this incessant need to categorize and label everything. Maybe some lies are good and some lies are bad, maybe pink is not just a girl color, maybe playing with soldiers and monsters is not just a boy's game, maybe people who have tattoos or drink alcohol or smoke or who swear are still good people and it is more than these things that define them. Maybe. Is this concept too abstract for children to understand or care about? That is also a possibility, but maybe we are simply underestimating them and aren't willing to take the risk to raise our children differently than the norm. 

     I'm not sure I want to lie to my children, but I know I will in the end because Santa Clause is fun and makes Christmas magical for kids. I don't want them to think that all strangers should be given a chance when they are alone or something either. However, I also want my kids to appreciate variation and know that when a human is in a wheelchair or is a lot shorter than most people, they are not defective or in need of extra labels to explain them. I want my kids to know that it is OK for boys to paint their fingernails and like pink. I want them to know that the world is a diverse place, which is scary and amazing at the same time. Santa Clause is magical, but his magic comes from children and the fantasies they make up about him. So I guess in the end it depends on the child and the parent. I find it OK to lie to kids when it is truly in their best interest or they want to make believe for awhile, but it isn't OK to patronize them and divide the world into black and white for them. It also isn't OK to make the child think that gray is all that exists, which means there are not boundaries at all.

     I grew up having a father who smoked, drank alcohol, had tattoos, piercings, and swore, but I still knew he was a good man. I loved him no matter what and I remember some kids, and even more often adults, hurting my feelings by insinuating or flat out telling me that people who did those things were bad. I know these parents had good intentions and wanted to help their kids make the right decisions, but at what cost? My mom also taught me about sex at a fairly early age, I was around seven, and she did it in a way that was completely truthful, but not graphic or hard for me to come to grips with as a young child. This made me less scared of sex and the unknown as I grew up, it didn't make me more promiscuous or otherwise "damage" me somehow by learning it too young. I also knew what a lot of adult words truly meant, swear words and otherwise, this didn't make me think it was OK for me to use them all of the time. If anything the knowledge of these things at an early age gave the concepts less power over me. I was able to concern myself with other things without the fear of some unknown adult construct that awaited me when I went through puberty. I grew up knowing that some things weren't good for me to participate in and turned out fine even though I also learned the abstract concept of the gray area in the world. 

     The world isn't a simple place and shouldn't be completely simplified or fluffed over for kids. I think kids can handle it. The real question is, can the parents?



The pool was closed, so we improvised...
















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