CBS Early Show: Why Kids Lie and How to Stop Them

October 27th, 2010

CBS Early Show

NEW YORK, Oct. 27, 2010
Why Kids Lie and How to Stop Them

“Early Show” Contributor Dr. Jennifer Hartstein Shares Tell-Tale Signs of Lying, How You Can Get Your Child to Be More Honest

As kids learn that lies can help them escape punishment, they tend to lie more. Bianca Solorzano reports.

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(CBS) You can deny it all you want but the truth is almost every kid lies — and they start young. As kids learn that lying can help them avoid things they hate or even escape punishment, they experiment with it even more. By the time children reach the age of 6, according to a University of Toronto study, they lie nearly once every 90 minutes.

Po Bronson, co-author of the book “NutureShock: New Thinking about Children,” told CBS News, “As kids get older and the better they understand the difference between the truth and a lie, they lie more not less. They don’t grow out of it. They grow into it.”

But as children become teens, CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano said, their motivations for lying change. Ninety-eight percent of teens admit they lie to their parents, according to a Penn State University study, so it’s not a question of if they lie, but how often, Solorzano said.

Bronson said, “When lying sort of goes on the surge, it’s usually a sign that something is going on — in their lives, perhaps at school, that’s causing a lot of problems.”

So it’s up to parents to be clued into what comes out of their kid’s mouths, keeping in mind the motivation behind some lies might just be harmless.

Solorzano asked one girl, “Why do you lie?”

She replied, “Because I don’t want them to be mad at me!”

So why do kids lie so early in life?

On “The Early Show,” contributor Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, a child and adolescent psychologist, said, “They don’t want to get in trouble or someone to be mad at them. They also lie because they have active imaginations and might start these fanciful stories and continue them on. And they don’t know now to get out of them and they kind of perpetuate themselves.”

“Early Show” co-anchor Harry Smith remarked, “One seems innocent, the other seems much less innocent.”

Hartstein said, “Right. Well, it depends on age. We’re talking kids aged 2 to 12. So a 2 or 3 or 4-year-old might be telling a fanciful story which could get them into a lot of trouble, but we all want people to like us, so they want to avoid punishments and make sure everything is OK with mom and dad.”

For older kids though, Hartstein said, lying can avoiding punishment, but also about peer acceptance, as well.

“There’s fear involved in there,” she said. “We are afraid of what people will say, are our parents going to be mad, kind of the punishment issue.”

She added, “Are we protecting someone else? Say the bully comes to you and wants to know where your friend is, you’re not going to tell them? There is the good lie and courteous white lie, ‘Do I look fat in this?’ Kids learn very early of being mindful — not letting people know.”

And Hartstein said there are some signs a child is lying.

Repeating the question: “Think about it, if you ask your son a question and he repeats the question back to you, ‘Hey, did you do your homework? Did I do my homework?’ They are stalling for time a little bit and do it all the time.”

Facial expressions: “They may start to get a tick. Rub their nose or chin.

Changes in voice: “Did their voice drop or raise did they start to talk too fast, talk too much, you have of a quiet kid who fills the silence. Think about that.”

So what can parents do if they suspect their child is lying?

Hartstein said, “The first thing you really want to do is have a moment of honesty and tell them what your values, what you expect from them.”

She added, “Can you can empathize with them? Why did they choose to lie, were they lying and talk about that, you want to know what they’re doing and not going to be angry, but want to talk to them about it, ask open-ended questions. … When they do tell you the truth, thank them for that and reinforce the behavior you want and it happen more often.”