Parenting by lying

Recently a couple of friends posted a link to an NBC news article titled  “Chinese parents bigger fibbers than American ones”.  It’s a survey-based study administered to  American parents (of various ethnic backgrounds including Asian Americans and Caucasians) and parents in China, asking if the parents had ever intentionally told their child an misleading false statement for the purposes of altering behavior.  The conclusion of the study was that the majority of parents do lie to their children in order to modify behavior, and perhaps Chinese parents, compared to US parents, are more willing to lie to prevent bad behavior (“If you don’t come with me now, I will leave you here.”)

As I read the study, I think there are some research method limitations, such as more college-educated parents in the US group, more male participants in the Chinese group, 1-child familes vs 2+ child families, cultural biases in the way certain statements are phrased  (how many US parents even know about the Moon Rabbit?), but I think overall the study brought up some interesting issues in terms of socially acceptable behavior and moral development.

The funny thing is that when I read through some of the false statements in the study, I could easily identify multiple similar lies that my parents told me when I was growing up (visions of myself as a pimply-faced cross-eyed picky-eater with a watermelon growing in my belly), but the more I thought about it, the more I wonder about how these lies have impacted me as an adult, and now as a parent with young children.

At a certain point in my life, I did realize that my parents intentionally used false statements to modify my behavior, but did it make me trust them less?  Did it make me more prone to lying to my own children? I would like to answer a resounding no to these questions, but then I started thinking about some of the things that I tell my own children, and I can recall using little white lies such as telling my children that there are no more cookies/candy left when in reality I just want them to stop snacking on junk or I’m saving an “emergency piece” for later.

I  remember an instance when my daughter was around 18 months, we were out running errands and she started complaining about wanting candy.  When I told her that I did not have any treats on me, she started to gesture wildly and yelling repeatedly, “CHA-CO-BAG!  CHA-CO-BAG!”  Eventually I was able to figure out that she was angrily telling me to “Check your bag.”  So it’s a little bit sad for me to admit that my own child realized at such a young age that mommy may not necessarily always be telling the truth.

So nowadays, my new strategy is to just tell my children health-related truths in order to modify their behavior.  And that is why my preschooler goes around lecturing her friends and classmates on the dangers of developing diabetes if they eat too much sugar.


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