“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Friedrich Nietzsche
I’ve always prided myself on learning most of my life lessons through experience. Yet parenting has shed an entirely new light on my philosophy. I have found that we must take life lessons where we find them and hope for the wisdom to pass them onto our children in a way they will understand.
This brings me to the topic of how we can get our children not to lie. It’s quite clear to me that some children will never lie and others have a tendency to do it quite often. For those children that struggle with the truth, how can we instill in them a habit of honesty and integrity?
Punishments for lying such as no television or no play dates may not be effective; the tendency to fib seems to go deeper in some children. Lying is really about an individual’s relationship with the truth and how important it is to them. If it’s not a value that our children hold close to their hearts, we need to find other ways to make the impression.
In my home I have found a way to instill the habit — talk about current events around the table. My children cannot believe that Martha Stewart actually spent time in jail for lying. The stories of all the people that Bernie Madoff hurt with his web of lies has dominated many conversations at dinner time.
Now since my children don’t play the stock market, I also thought it important to tell them stories about people with whom they can identify more. It was very clear that I could pick the world of sports. The world of professional sports has given parents a lot of material to open the conversation about lying. They have also given us some material to slip a little anti-drug conversation in as well.
Most children know what it is like to play on a sports team and have other teammates count on them, and they have felt the value of the relationships made through sports. They understand the rules of the games and for the most part are reprimanded by the coaches and experience consequences if they break rules. Sadly, however, many professional players have been barred from sports, lost their titles, trophies and even gotten jail time because they did something wrong and then lied about it.
My children were riveted by Olympic athlete Marion Jones who, after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from perjury, was stripped of her six Olympic medals in 2007, banned from the Olympics, and sentenced to six months in prison, two years of probation and community service. They couldn’t believe how much she gave up because she took drugs and did not tell the truth. We’ve talked about Barry Bonds, now a convicted felon for lying to a grand jury about his steroid use. And even though Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire served no jail time, their reputations are tarnished forever.
Most recently, our conversations have been about Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong’s web of lies has cost him everything he worked so hard to gain. My children know that he is being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, his Olympic medal, his prize money, his sponsorships, his LiveStrong organization and the respect of millions of people around the world. He hurt so many people with his lies that most people will never trust him again. In Lance’s case, I also point out that it wasn’t just the lying that was wrong, but also the drug use and how drugs can ruin lives.
These stories about public figures help children see how tough it is to hold a lie, how many people you can hurt and how very much there is to lose. The conversation will also allow your child not to feel attacked about their own actions because the discussion is not about them. It makes them more open and aware of the consequences of lying and hopefully helps them to create the habit and intention not to lie in the future. And in this way, Maybe the habit will eventually turn into a part of their moral code.
So give it a try. Maybe you and your children will find the dinner table even more interesting!