Children who are lied to by adults are more likely to lie than children who are not lied to by adults. Once again science tells us something that we should have already known. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego[i] conducted an interesting project that involved 186 children divided into two groups.[ii] Both groups were asked to identify the cartoon characters only hearing their voices and without peaking at the dolls that represented them. One half of the group was told that there was a bowl of candy in the next room. Then in short order they were told by the researcher that they had been lied to and that there was no candy. The other group was not lied to by the researcher.
Both groups were then asked to identify the characters by listening to the song associated with the doll without looking. Just after the child heard the tune, the observer excused himself and left the room. This gave the child a 90 second opportunity to cheat. Then when the observer returned the children were asked if they had cheated.
The results are interesting for those aged 5 to 7. Around 60% of those who had not been lied to cheated. And, 60% of those who cheated lied about it. For those in the group who had been lied to by the researcher 80% cheated and 90% of those cheated lied about it. There was a difference between the 5 to 7 year olds and the 3 to 4 year olds. The 3 to 4 years olds were not affected by the lie the researcher told and cheated and lied at the same rate.
I suppose you wouldn’t need a doctorate in psychology to predict that children who are lied to by adults will learn from them. I suppose when parents or important adult figures lie to children we should expect that children might think we were telling them that it is ok. As a parent of four children and a grandparent of twelve, I have always thought that the young ones who watch me pick up my bad habits quicker than any good ones I might have.
I guess this means that if I smoke my children will. If I cuss, my children probably will too. If my children see that I smoke pot, they may decide that it is ok for them as well. There are all kinds of things that we can choose to do as adults that our children may choose to imitate because that is how they learn.
If we want our children to become honest, hard working, upright citizens who become good parents, we will have to set the example. We are already setting an example for them, the only question is will it be a good one?
Proverbs 22:6 is quoted often in reference to raising children. “Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” There are lots of conclusions that we can arrive at from that verse, but the one that is unavoidable is that parents do the training. And, how we choose to live by God’s grace will profoundly affect the little ones who watch us.
When we adults are deciding what our habits, words, or actions will be, we need to remember that there are always little eyes watching and learning. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edification, that it may minister grace to the hearer.” Ephesians 4:29
[i] University of California, San Diego. "Lied-to children more likely to cheat, lie." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140319093802.htm>.
[ii] Chelsea Hays, Leslie J. Carver. Follow the liar: the effects of adult lies on children's honesty. Developmental Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/desc.12171