How Can Parents Teach Right from Wrong?
Parenting-advice books often tell us to set a good example for our children by not lying at all, but what Dr. DePaulo's experiments -- and our common sense -- show us is that this is nearly impossible. The real challenge for parents, she says, "is negotiating the fine line between having standards and being understanding of the imperfections of human nature."
When pointed out to Dr. DePaulo that many parents have a stringent rule -- "We don't lie in this family" -- she responded: "What those parents want is for their kids to be perfect. But when a parent is incredibly strict about lying, he creates a situation in which the child is doomed to fail because no human can meet these standards." In fact, she adds, "the more the parent says, 'We're a good family; we don't lie,' the more difficult it becomes for kids to own up to their imperfections." Rather than setting the unrealistic goal of abolishing all lies, what makes more sense is to establish what your own family's boundaries should be.
Indeed, teaching children to lie only under certain circumstances is a necessary part of socialization. It's important to explain that it's not a good idea to make announcements to preschool acquaintances like "I think you're ugly" or "I have better toys." Notes my friend: "You want them to be able to say to another child, 'It was nice meeting you,' even if the playdate was imposed on them."