Dear Grandparenting: We had an expression growing up when we caught someone in a lie. “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” I had more or less retired that phrase until my grandchildren became a bigger part of my life. They must think I was born yesterday. Sooner or later, one of them will lie straight to my face just about every day I see them. This really bothers me a lot. I cannot stand liars because without truth you have nothing.
Lying simply was not tolerated when I was young. My mother and father believed it was a sin. Telling the truth was their number one rule. When my grandchildren’s friends come around, I notice they will also play fast and loose with the truth. What’s come over grandchildren these days? Is lying the fashionable thing to do? Please explain. Sasha, Los Angeles, California.
Dear Sasha: The intention to deceive has always been part of life on earth, particularly among more socialized species that behave cooperatively. (Loners have no one to lie to.) Researchers report that deception is “rife” among apes and monkeys. Some linguistic scholars believe that the invention of lying was just seconds behind the invention of human language.
Lying certainly seems more prevalent today. Adults still moralize about lying and frown on liars, but often set poor examples for children to follow. Hard times call for extreme measures — people routinely lie to get a job, or get by, in an increasingly competitive world. The Internet and social media are a liar’s paradise, where anyone can say anything, often anonymously. Children model these behaviors and can reach the conclusion that it’s but a choice to tell the truth. In many households, lying sadly seems to have become no big deal. The very virtue of truth-telling is on fire.
But since lying is a learned behavior, it can be dampened and unlearned. The trick is to intervene before it becomes fixed as second nature. Grandparents inclined to punish lying are on the wrong track, according to a major study at Canada’s McGill University of nearly 400 children aged four to eight. Punishment sidesteps the opportunity at hand — communicating the importance of being honest. The study found that children respond best to a moral appeal for truth telling. Younger grandchildren are likely to tell the truth to please adults; older grandchildren are inclined to do so because of their internalized definition of right and wrong.
We don’t applaud lying, but another study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology indicates that children who are accomplished liars exhibit superior thinking and memory skills. It’s not all that easy keeping their stories straight. That’s what the study reports — honestly.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Mary Ellen from Kingsport, Tennessee, became exasperated watching grandson Tommy play with his dinner.
“Eat!” she finally thundered.
“That’s what Tommy does between meals, not at them,” piped up sister Amy.
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.