ControverSunday: On the Importance of Lying to Children

Welcome to ControverSunday! This project is hosted by Perpetua, the badge created by Accidents. After reading this post, be sure to visit Perpetua’s site to discover the other bloggers participating in this week’s topic – truth.

***

“I’m scared,” the Bear complained as MJ turned out the bedroom light.

“What are you scared of,” MJ asked.

“The monsters.”

“Oh, there are no monsters in our house,” he explained simply. “We have green stairs. And green is one of the colours that monsters hate.”

“So they won’t come into our house,” the Bear concluded for MJ.

“Exactly.”

We lie to our children. Don’t deny it. We tell them about Santa Claus or the tooth fairy or green stairs that keep monsters away. Some parents tell their kids that Rover went to go be a police dog. Or they explain newborn babies with the classic stork tale. Some encourage the wonderment of the existence of Bigfoot while camping in old forests. And while we may not outright lie, we aim to keep young minds away from some of the horrors of the world – crimes or environmental catastrophes.

So, why do we do it? And why are the lies so, well, acceptable?

I think that we do it because there is something in us that respects the innocence of childhood. We dread the day when children seek to understand or question complicated topics like death or God or war or sex. We also don’t want to deny children of a temporary belief in a world capable of magic and mystery.

I believe that a healthy respect for childhood is a good thing. In a world that increasingly sees children as mini-adults, the art of lying to children in order to preserve childhood should be observed as an admirable quality.

I’ve written before about the adultfication of childhood. Adultfication can be observed in adult-like schedules foisted on children and a distain for what is viewed as purposeless play. It can also be seen in the way we sexualize children. I recently saw a one-year-old with the words, ‘Ladies Man’ on the front of his t-shirt. The grim reality is that if we are to help preserve the realm of childhood, then mastering the art of lying to children is a healthy tactic in a parent’s arsenal to help keep adult influences at bay.

At this point, I’d like to add that there are some caveats. Lying to our children should not be so extensive that there is a complete disregard for some basic lessons in reality. For example, we were quite transparent with the Bear when it came to the details about giving birth since we had a home birth with Banana. It was vital that the Bear understood some of the reality of what was happening. And it also takes some wisdom to know when to stop lying to our children. At some point children want and need to know about adult topics. They do grow up!

But while they are young, I will continue to explain that the condoms in the top drawer are mouse poison that shouldn’t be touched. And Santa Claus still comes to our house. And I attempt to shield my girls from adult sexual references such as using the words ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ or ‘flirting’ for their relationships and behaviour. And I don’t like them watching the news with us.

It is also with great relief that the Bear can sleep at night. This is, of course, since there are no monsters at house. As long as we have the green stairs, that is.

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8 Responses to “ControverSunday: On the Importance of Lying to Children”


  1. 1 eating out a girl September 27, 2014 at 1:03 pm

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  2. 2 patientpenguin June 15, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I recently had an interesting conversation with the Bug (4) about tampons and my Diva Cup…. this came about as I was looking for tampons in the grocery store and the Bug said “what are you looking for?” and then before I could answer she said “oh yeah stuff for your vulva” 🙂 I just replied “yes” and we moved on to find other grocery items. But she didn’t stop asking questions and that night in the tub she asked again about what they are for. So I just said that if there is not a baby growing in my uterus (she knows all about the bits and pieces in her belly) it bleeds occasionally and when she gets older that will happen to her. The tampons keep us from getting our undies messy. Sorry about this post… but I was surprised by her reaction, so matter of fact like there was nothing unusual about that. I think some topics that we may consider ‘adult’ can be simplified for children so they can learn the basic mechanics of how their bodies work. The socially constructed elements of sex are not present at a young age and I think it might make explanations actually simpler. I have not tackled ‘sex’ yet but we do talk about how other animals make babies all the time. The latest one being the Banana Slug (which is worth a Google if you’d like a laugh) 🙂

    ~patientpenguin

    • 3 Mama Tortoise June 15, 2010 at 2:38 pm

      I agree about the social construction of sex being something that is part of the adult world. Hence the disgust I have at the ‘ladies man’ t-shirt for the one-year-old but the comfort that I have with talking about birth. At what point do basic biological functions become imbued with confusing, or sexist, or judgmental ‘constructions’? Is that what adultfication really is? Social construction?

      Sorry for the heavy response! Thanks for your openness!

  3. 4 Perpetua May 26, 2010 at 1:23 am

    Seriously tricky, all of this stuff–especially “adultification” (great word). Though, on the other hand, my husband and I grew up with completely different parental attitudes about sex (his mom was open and “encouraging,” if you want to use that word, of his relationships, while my parents were the exact opposite) but we still turned out relatively the same and relatively ok.

    The green stairs are great. I’m going to have to remember that when it comes time to monster-proof our house. 🙂

  4. 5 Keely May 25, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Mouse poison, lol! Great post. I guess “lying” to children is a matter of semantics – I would probably tell them the condoms were “mommy and daddy stuff”, or some other partial truth, and hopefully leave it at that. Although my kid is only 2-1/2, so I haven’t felt the full brunt of child inquisitiveness.

    And as for Santa…to be honest (which is what this is about, right?), if it were just up to ME, no, Santa wouldn’t visit our house. We’d celebrate a nice winter holiday that happens to include loads of presents from Mom & Dad. Creating the whole Santa story seems like such a inevitable disappointment and so much WORK, and like others have mentioned, I can’t remember a time when I believed it myself. But obviously, I can’t control what he learns at daycare or from his grandparents. This winter will probably be the test of whether I succumb to the social lie.

    Wow, long comment. Clearly I had a lot more to say that I didn’t post!

  5. 6 Partial May 23, 2010 at 11:49 am

    You have a similar attitude to me about most of these things. I did consider preserving the “magic” of childhood, but didn’t quite consider how kids are “adultified” which adds a lot of dimension when considering an approach to the issue.

    The mouse poison thing is hilarious.

    I like that you are open with facts about birth. I wonder when it’s appropriate to be fully open about sex. Probably long before I think she’s ready.

    • 7 Mama Tortoise May 23, 2010 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts. THe sexual thing is the topic that I feel most strongly about and seem to observe the most when it comes to the adultfication of kids. I want her to be comfortable with sex as part of life, but I’m anxious to dole out the info on sex/relationships in a healthy, age appropriate way. Oh, so tricky!


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