“Adults constantly raise the bar on children, precisely because they're able to handle it. The children get overwhelmed by the tasks in front of them and gradually lose the sort of openness and sense of accomplishment they innately have. When they're treated like that, children start to crawl inside a shell and keep everything inside. It takes a lot of time and effort to get them to open up again. Kids' hearts are malleable, but once they gel, it's hard to get them back the way they were.” - Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Lying is wrong and honesty is the best policy. This is what the teachers teach and parents preach to their kids since the initial years of their development. But kids find it hard to follow and practice. They do lie. And it starts at an early age and this tendency increases with time. Brilliantly using their positive capabilities of mind reading and self control, kids lie. The more mentally and logically strong the child is, the more confident and detailed he is at lying.
The question arises, why do kids lie? Let us try probe into this. The reasons are thought provoking and worth pondering.
· To Escape Punishments: Lying becomes the easy way out of punishments and scolding. It is interesting to note that we never teach our children to take pride in accepting their mistakes and moving on towards improvement. The moment they commit a mistake, they are questioned, scolded and even humiliated. Lying becomes a safe escape out of such situations. Kids lie out of fear, guilt, and shame.
· Peer Pressure: At school and other public arenas kids constantly interact with other kids of their age. They strive to maintain a status quo in that group of peers. To prove that they are equal to the other members of the group they tend to show off and claim to have and be various things that they are not. Here they take the help of lying again. An amazing web series on Amazon Prime Videos, “Lakhon Mein Ek” portrays the story of a teenager who is forced to join a coaching centre for IIT. He aspires to be a commerce graduate but had to submit to the aspirations of the parents. In the coaching institute he is enrolled in the section of the least scorers according to his performance. He is trapped in the company of certain bullies who force him to act according to their whims. Unable to come out of this situation, he succumbs to lying.
· Burdened by Expectations: Pamela Mayers, author of “Lie Spotters” believes that “lying is a cooperative act. A lie has no power whatsoever by its mere utterance. Its power emerges when someone else agrees to believe in the lie and expects a happy lie instead of the difficult truth.” What I am trying to indicate here is that kids are always expected to do the right thing and parents set certain standards and high expectations which the kids are constantly expected to fulfill. When they fail to do so they take refuge in lying to maintain their dignity in front of their parents and teachers.
· They Simply Emulate: Yes. It might sound unpleasant but I emphasize time and again that children practice what they see around practiced and not what is preached. Adults set up high ideals for them but often succumb to lying unknowingly (at times knowingly) about simple issues in front of the kids. Kids tend to do the same in similar situations.
“It would be surprising for you to believe but lies deeply hurt children. When they come to know that adults around are lying to them, they end up doubting themselves.” This hypocrisy has adverse effects on them. The ideal world constructed around them is shattered. In this course they lose their innocence as beautifully described in the poem “Childhood” by Markus Natten. “Children will learn to trust their inner sense of differentiating between right and wrong at a young age, only when their parents and teachers encourage this.” As children grow they learn at every stage that the world is not an ideal place. We cannot burden them with moral thoughts and ideas without explaining them the practicality behind their philosophies and values.
To tell children the importance of honesty or the dangers of lying we need to ask them the following striking questions and let them seek the hard hitting answers:
1. Would you appreciate someone lying straight to your face? Would you like your family and friends to lie to you?
2. Do you know that telling lies to protect someone you love will only destroy them in the end?
3. Do you want dishonesty to be a part of your individuality, your being and your legacy?
4. Don’t you think there could have been another better option or an alternative to lying?
5. Do you want to live in the fear of getting exposed some day? What if no one trusts you after that?
Asking questions means seeking answers. We must engage kids in self talk and encourage them to communicate with us while they give the answers. Freud said that no mortal can keep a secret. One only needs a listening heart and an understanding mind.
The so called modern world where technology is advancing day by day, kids get opportunities to express and share their feelings on social media. But is it the right platform to share thoughts? Jeff Hancock interestingly observes, “In the world full of tweets, status updates and constant texting; over sharing has become a trend. Over sharing doesn’t ensure honesty rather it increases the chances of fakeness. Subtleties and importance of human integrity is what that matters.” This situation calls for better communication between parents, teachers and children, so that they realize that the best people who can understand them and they should open up to are their parents and teachers.
“Parenting is all about communicating with your child. Positive two-way communication is essential to building your child's self-esteem. While children thrive with words of encouragement and praise, listening to your children boosts their self-esteem and enables them to feel worthy and loved.” This self-esteem in turn motivates them to accept themselves which thereby decrease their chances of telling lies. Looking at the role of teachers I would like to quote, “Happily, effective teacher-student relationship is not related to the teacher’s personality or the students viewing the teacher as a friend. Rather, they are characterized by teachers exhibiting appropriate levels of assertiveness and co-operation; clear communication and awareness of high-needs students.” The trust and belief shown by teachers can work wonders. If the students can trust their teachers and confide in them then kids would not need to lie.
I would like to share an interesting incident here. Once, a student was wearing his identity card cover with the string attached to it. The string being around his neck and the cover in the shirt pocket couldn’t let the teacher realize that his card was missing. When the monitor was checking the uniform he asked the boy to take out his identity card and show it to him and this way it was found that this was empty cover. The kid was then taken to the class teacher by the monitor. Understanding the situation the teacher stared at him. The kid expected a lecture on the importance of rules and regulation of the school and how not wearing the identity card is a breach of discipline. But something amazing happened. The kid was shocked to see the expressions of anxiety and worry on the face of the teacher. After 30 seconds or so of silence the teacher said, “Dear child! You are an integral part of my class. Do you understand that the identity card plays a crucial role in case of emergencies? They carry all the significant information which can be used in case of a mishap. I hope you would take care of this and always carry your identity card.” The child thoughtfully nodded his head twice, said sorry and went back to his seat smiling as there was an affectionate communication giving no chance to the child to come up with excuses and lies. So, with this understanding and sharing of ideas the tendency of lying among kids can be reduced. But the important thing here is to make sure that the lies spoken by kids should not be taken lightly. The reactions should not be grave but it should be made sure that kids realize the dangers of lying. According to Dr. Carl E Pickhardt, “Whatever is the child’s reason; parents and teachers need to treat lying seriously. There is no such thing as a small lie because when adults overlook one lie, they only encourage the telling of another. The quality of family life depends, as much as anything, on the quality of communication. There is no trust without truth. There is no intimacy without honesty. There is no safety without sincerity.”