January 21, 2013
The Tooth Fairy Effect: Parents Lie To Instill Good Behavior In Children
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Everyone knows lying is wrong. And most parents try to instill in their children that this behavior is unacceptable. But new research has shown a vast majority of parents will actually lie to their children in order to get them to behave.
Lead researcher Gail Heyman, of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), has found certain variations in the way parents from the US and China use untruths and white lies when dealing with their kids. The research is published in the International Journal of Psychology.
Heyman and colleagues found the percentage of parents who reported lying to their children for the purpose of getting them to behave was higher in China (98 percent) than in the US (84 percent). The researchers believe the reason parents in China lie more in this manner is due to the fact that demand for compliance is greater in China than in the US, and parents will do whatever is necessary to make their kids conform.
Other types of lying, however, were similar between China and US parents. In both countries, parents seem to be comfortable lying to their kids to promote positive feelings and to support belief in the existence of fantasy characters, such as the Tooth Fairy.
And parents from both places also similarly believe in telling lies to influence eating habits and to dissuade kids from pleading for toys and treats while shopping. They also similarly believe in false threats of abandonment for children who do not obey orders when away from home.
While lying to your children may seem like a safe action in order to promote control, conduct and compliance, previous studies have shown that when young children are deciding who to trust they become increasingly sensitive to people´s history of being honest or dishonest with them personally. For parents who lie to their children often, they may be undermining the child´s sense of trust in them and could be turning them away rather than getting them to comply.
The findings of the study suggest parents need to choose their battles wisely. There are alternative ways to get children to behave, suggest the researchers. A rewards system might have less risk of confusing them with conflicting ideas about honesty. And such a system could instill in children that honesty is the best policy as lies and deceit may only encourage children to follow in their parents´ footsteps in a negative manner.