How to talk with children about... lies and lying

Our 16- year old son cheated on us. He was given money for private lessons and he spent it meeting his own needs. When we asked him whether he had had a lesson with his math teacher he said he had. Fortunately, we found out the truth quickly. Our son admitted his guilt but we are worrying that he does not feel sorry for his actions – he had his reasons. It will be hard to trust him again. Now we pay the teacher ourselves but we cannot control him in other situations. How should we explain to a teenager that telling lies does not pay?
Jakub’s parents

Parents can hear their children tell lies consciously when they are kindergarteners. Children do not want to admit their guilt; they can blame others, etc. Therefore, one should remember not to punish them for admitting their guilt! It is important that we, parents or educators, do not confuse the children’s natural need to fantasize with lying. Unusual stories about what happened in the kindergarten, stories about various adventures, playing various roles are not lies but they show the rich world of children’s imagination. When children fantasize we should enter their world of dreams and invented stories and tell them our own stories. We can always say, ‘You are making up stories and so am I, but now let us finish that and we will tell only the truth.’
‘It is very important to tell the truth in our family’; ‘even the worst truth is better than the smallest lie’; ‘we will not cheat even a little’ – these are sentences that children should hear from their early years and the sentences should be supported by examples from daily life.
Teenagers must know and feel as well as have the chance to check that they do not need to tell lies and cheat to gain something. They should also experience that lies destroy relationships. The important thing in teaching children to tell the truth is that they should not be able to mention any situation when their parents cheated on them or cheated themselves or cheated on others.
Jakub lied because lying paid. We should ask whether he considered all the costs and consequences of his behaviour. Was he told about consequences of cheating to his closest family? Before such situations occur one should talk to children about people who tell lies. Children and youth learn more and accept the teaching when the stories do not concern them directly – commenting on other people’s behaviour without alluding to children is very educational. It is essential to discuss at home what the truth is and what lying is in people’s lives. Our life can give us many topics. The last undelivered speech of President Lech Kaczynki included the words ‘hiding the truth concerning the Katyn massacre’ and ‘the foundational lie of the Polish People’s Republic’. This should be a topic of discussions in our families. In the historical macroscale lying did not pay, in the microscale of the family teachers gain by lying but lies remain lies and destroy relationships. If we want to struggle for the truth in our families we should not be afraid of big comparisons. We should also be aware that we cannot reach the truth by controlling and watching.
‘I leave it to your conscience whether it is the truth or not. I can only hope that you do not want to cheat on me but you do care about clear conscience.’ We should care about clear conscience when we struggle for the truth. If we can say that we have done our best to live in truth in our family relationships it will affect our social relationships and we will not focus on our alleged benefits from ‘departing from the truth’, i.e. telling lies.

"Niedziela" 21/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: