Monday, March 03, 2008

Learning to Lie

The cover story of Feb. 18th’s New York Magazine (no, not the Lindsay Lohan one) is a fascinating look, by writer Po Bronson, on "Learning to Lie."

For all we value honesty, almost all children lie at some point. Bronson postulates that children learn this habit from their parents. They see us lie to telemarketers, lie to be polite when people give inappropriate gifts, lie to avoid conflict, etc. Research shows that fear of punishment does not make children lie less. Rather, they learn to lie less as they learn to think about how other people might feel – in other words, as they become socialized to be empathetic.

To curtail the habit, Bronson recommends making sure that even small lies are noticed, and assuring the child that telling the truth will be better (because you won’t react unreasonably). You should also avoid entrapping kids and putting them in positions to lie unnecessarily. Bronson recounts noticing his 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter scribbling on the dining room table with a washable marker. “Disapprovingly, I asked ‘Did you draw on the table, Thia?’ In the past, she would have answered honestly, but my tone gave away that she’d done something wrong. Immediately, I wished I could retract the question. I should have just reminded her not to write on the table, slipped newspaper under her coloring book, and washed the ink away. Instead, I had done just as [McGill University child development professor Victoria] Talwar had warned against. ‘No, I didn’t,’ my daughter said, lying to me for the first time.”

The article in general is worth a read, but most fascinating for our purposes is the link between intelligence and early lying. “Bright kids – those who do better on other academic indicators – are able to start lying at 2 or 3,” Bronson writes. The article quotes Talwar saying that “lying is related to intelligence.” While truthfulness is a virtue, lying requires skill. As Bronson notes, “A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require… That puts parents in the position of being either damned or blessed, depending on how they choose to look at it. If your 4-year-old is a good liar, it’s a strong sign she’s got brains. And it’s the smart, savvy kid who’s most at risk of becoming a habitual liar.”

I’m curious if readers of this blog have found that to be the case. Are gifted toddlers capable of telling very tall tales? How do you stop them?

13 comments:

Queen of Shake-Shake said...

No, I haven't experienced that with my gifted son. But he is one of those gifted kids that lags behind socially.

On the other hand, my youngest son (who hasn't shown signs of giftedness) is a whiz at socializing and also at lying.

Perhaps there is more of social factor playing into it than pure intelligence? Maybe this is a factor in a child who is not only gifted but socially advanced for his/her age too.

Stephanie said...

There is a game of sorts you can do to see if your child is capable of lying to you. You hold out both hands with a small object in one of them, move them behind your back and see if the child can guess the hand. Then have the child play the game on you. Most small children will come out from behing their back with one hand closed (empty) and one hand open -- with the object. They don't realize that they can trick you so they just show you the object.

This is a great way to see if your child has the ability to lie or trick you. I've seen way too many parents accuse their very young children of lying and I just don't think it is possible.

Anonymous said...

It is possible for very young children to lie, though it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a child whose idea about what has happened is different from ours from one who is deliberately lying.

We have managed to keep down the lying in our son by being much more upset about lies than about other infractions of rules. He did play with learning the skill of lying when he was around 7, but he would usually tell us afterward about the lie, so that we could appreciate his acting skill (which was more important to him than anything the lie could have gotten him).

He also sees 2 different adult strategies for white lies. My wife uses them for politeness, I generally do not. So far he has been modeling his behavior more on me than on her, but that might change as he gets more social.

Anonymous said...

My PG/asperger's daughter never lies, in fact, is honest to a fault. So like queen, I'd say there's the social intelligence factor of lying.
My daughter doesn't like lying at all, nor does she like when others lie to her.

belljennifer71 said...

My gifted 3.5 YO has been lying for about a year, maybe longer. One lie in particular bothered me because he accused a friend's child of calling him a name when she obviously had NOT done so... and embarrassed me! Of course, I pointed out that the other child had not done what he said.

My son also shows signs of OCD, and does not show much emotion - even when he is very needy. Last night when he got in trouble, he showed zero emotion. Then this morning when he talked to me about it (he brought the issue up), he said "and I wouldn't cry." He relates well to me and to his dad, and is quite attached to his very bright, but probably not as gifted brother. He seems to rely on his brother, which I'm reluctant to discourage. (More people should be closely bonded with their siblings.)

A lot of the things he says, I believe, are products of his imagination. He'll tell me someone (Mema, for example) did something that I am certain they did not do. A lot of those things I will let go, or respond by saying he's silly... fantasy? He wishes he'd been baking cookies with Mema? I don't know how to deal with that. Any ideas? Do I just tell him that these things didn't happen? Or do I take it as "pretending" of sorts?

Anonymous said...

My son uttered his first lie at 18 months old - "yes" to "did you put away your toys?" When asked why he said yes when he had not in fact picked them up, his answer was "that's what you want to hear". He's 16 now and has been perfecting his skill ever since then...

belljennifer71 said...

LOL! I think kids lie. I think it's human nature to lie. However, it's our job as parents to teach them that it's not okay. My question lies in where are the boundaries with a 3.5 YO who makes very clear statements of things that are not true. I'm exhausted at the idea of explaining to him that these "ideas" are just fantasy, and he's pretending... and that these things didn't truly happen...

Evenspor said...

This is really fascinating. Now I know to e on my guard.

Anonymous said...

My 6 year old gifted girl has been an accomplished liar all her life. At first, we saw it as a rich fantasy life. At 6, it has just gotten more convincing. She said she knocked on the neighbor's door and told us the conversation in great detail. If I hadn't watched her NOT knock on the door, I would have believed her. It's lying for the sake of changing the truth!

Anonymous said...

Leta Hollingworth's observation is pertinent here: "Of all the special problems of general conduct which the most intelligent children face, I will mention five, which beset them in early years and may lead to habits subversive of fine leadership: (1) to find enough hard and interesting work at school; (2) to suffer fools gladly; (3) to keep from becoming negativistic toward authority; (4) to keep from becoming hermits; (5) to avoid the formation of habits of extreme chicanery (Hollingworth, 1942, p. 299)"

Archana said...

So there are more research findings that support lying, & enhanced neuronal connection / white matter ( 25% more connection than non liars)! The researcher who landed upon these finding was taken by surprise. She was studying brain activity via PET scan which shows the active brain part during lynig, like coming up with an explaination of a situation. She found that people who were most sucessful in lying, (& experienced) had brains that fired in more differnt direction, more areas lit up, & faster these happened, quicker they were to come up with a lie ( that they admitted later), & more white matter they had.

She also found that children between age 2 to 10 had biggest jump in their white matter & that's exactly the time when children learn to lie.

What she then went on to explain, was that to tell an honest answer you donot need to be creative/ imaginative. You just tell the truth as it exists. However, to be able to tell a lie that is white, you must make few responses, judge them for their sucess & then present them in the way that it will fly. Makes sense? Not that this gives anyone an excuse to lie but, explains few observations that have been made in relation with intelligence & lying.
Here is the link to conversation with that Scientist on NPR. Enjoy!!

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=87937883

CutePartyideas said...

I'm deeply concerned about the lies. Our gifted nine-year old (verified gifted OSLAT top 2%) has only recently been lying to us. She knows that Mom knows her lies, but continues the acting drama with Dad. The lies are simple: about brushing teeth or finishing her food, but they are lies none-the-less created simply for convenience. She does not realize that she is a child and should be inferior/submissive to parents. This causes much strife in the household, which she creates. She is a gifted UNDER-achiever, meaning that she does not care about school and does minimal work, and yet still gets good grades and test scores. She knows how to manipulate the system to get the easy life. She is unfortunately learning the art of lies, but Mom can see through them. In many ways we are so proud of her, and yet in others we constantly have to apologize for her bad behavior. And now the lies are becoming an issue of debate with Grandparents and between us as husband and wife. It's not easy to raise a gifted child. It's not easy to help her manage boundaries. She simply does not feel anyone should decide for her anything. She feels completely capable despite her short time on this planet. Okay, I'm off my soap box. If any other gifted parents want to chime in, I'd love some advice.

Evan Adams said...

Parents, please be careful of assuming socially awkward kids don't/can't lie. I've seen that assumption a lot, and it's almost always false. Sometimes they have less *reason* to, and they almost never enjoy it enough to do it unnecessarily, but they can lie, and they do. More probably, you've just never caught them at it.

Also, CutePartyideas, try actually letting her make her own decisions for a while. If you're right, and there's some reason she should be "inferior/submissive", then she'll get to find that out through experience, when things don't go as well. And if you're wrong, then you can stop having these power struggles and start trusting her to make her own decisions. At 9 years old, she's rapidly approaching the point where she needs to learn independence anyway, so there's no reason to push so hard on the "you're a child, accept it" thing. Also, while gifted kids emotional age is usually behind their intellectual age, it's often still ahead of their chronological age. And a kid a few years older than her would definitely have a developmental need for this kind of boundary testing.