What Lies Beneath
By Trinity Kay
I just finished reading a 5 page article in the New York Times online edition titled Learning to Lie, by Po Bronson. The article makes many claims and I would suggest that parents and those who work with kids take a look at the entire article as it is worth the time it takes to get through. Bronson’s main focus is the research done by Dr. Nancy Darling, then at Penn State University that shows that 98% of youth are lying to their parents.
Her team’s research came up with the following statistics;
“Out of the 36 topics, the average teen was lying to his parents about twelve of them. The teens lied about what they spent their allowances on, and whether they’d started dating, and what clothes they put on away from the house. They lied about what movie they went to, and whom they went with. They lied about alcohol and drug use, and they lied about whether they were hanging out with friends their parents disapproved of. They lied about how they spent their afternoons while their parents were at work. They lied about whether chaperones were in attendance at a party or whether they rode in cars driven by drunken teens.”
The Times article goes on to say that while 98% of teens are lying to their parents 98% of parents are rating honesty as one of the most important characteristics for their child to posses. So why the disconnect? Good question. According to the article there are a few answers that rang true in the research. All of which point to the habit of lying beginning at a very early age. The most disturbing answer is that parents have taught their child to lie. Not on purpose of course but by example and by setting them up to lie.
Behavior is often learned through observation and as children watch their parents tell little white lies to ease an awkward social situation, such as, “Your fruitcake is amazing!” They begin to see how lying can have a positive outcome. They might begin to try out a few of their own little lies when their birthday roles around and they get a knit sweater with a giant dolls head on the front of it from grandma. As they show their fake excitement over the gift they receive looks of gratitude and pride from mom and dad that they have raised such a polite kid. This is not to say that raising polite kids is a sin, but according to the article it is where this cycle of lying is traced back to.
While all of that is interesting it was page four of Bronson’s piece that got me.
By withholding details about their lives, adolescents carve out a social domain and identity that are theirs alone, independent from their parents or other adult authority figures. To seek out a parent for help is, from a teen’s perspective, a tacit admission that he’s not mature enough to handle it alone. Having to tell parents about it can be psychologically emasculating, whether the confession is forced out of him or he volunteers it on his own. It’s essential for some things to be “none of your business.”
This is not news to me but what you may not have realized is that while in previous generations this was thought of as a concern regarding high school students it is now much more of an issue for our middle school kids. It is around 13 that this is a major factor in the conversations taking place between parents and their children.
It is this trend that has influenced parents in the way they relate to their children. Some trying to set up vast set of rules and guidelines to keep their kids on the straight and narrow and other trying to be their kids “best friend” in order to have a more open and honest (key word there) relationship. Neither of which according to the research seem to have worked well in establishing the character quality of honesty in the teenagers. What has worked is setting a few firm rules, and explaining the reasoning behind those rules to the children, and having more grace and openness in things that are not under those few rules.
The most informative part of the article for me was this, “In the thesaurus, the antonym of honesty is lying, and the opposite of arguing is agreeing. But in the minds of teenagers, that’s not how it works. Really, to an adolescent, arguing is the opposite of lying.”
Meaning that when a student is actually willing to confront an adult with a situation, they are willing to deal with the truth and while I hate arguments because they make me uncomfortable, according to the research for this study teens do not view arguments as damaging. Rather they see them as an opportunity to understand the other person’s perspective. I am in no way going to condone fighting, and I think that arguments should happen only in respectful ways, I found this information enlightening.
Again, much of this is not news as it is a reminder that though we wish that the world and our students within that world were truthful it just isn’t so. The truth hurts don’t it? But the truth can set you free.
Check out the full article for yourself at http://nymag.com/news/features/43893/