People who were lied to by their parents go on to become liars themselves, new research finds.
Common lies parents tell like, “If you don’t behave, I’ll call the police,” might seem harmless, but they have long-term consequences.
People lied to more as children grow up to be more manipulative and selfish.
Dr Setoh Peipei, the study’s first author, said:
“Parenting by lying can seem to save time especially when the real reasons behind why parents want children to do something is complicated to explain.
When parents tell children that ‘honesty is the best policy’, but display dishonesty by lying, such behaviour can send conflicting messages to their children.
Parents’ dishonesty may eventually erode trust and promote dishonesty in children.”
The study included 379 young adults, who were asked how much they were lied to as children by their parents.
Typical lies included:
- “If you don’t come with me now, I will leave you here by yourself.”
- “I did not bring money with me today, we can come back another day.”
The results showed that people lied to as children were more likely to lie back to their parents.
People who were lied to more also experienced more guilt and shame as well as being more selfish and manipulative.
Dr Peipei said:
“Our research suggests that parenting by lying is a practice that has negative consequences for children when they grow up.
Parents should be aware of these potential downstream implications and consider alternatives to lying, such as acknowledging children’s feelings, giving information so children know what to expect, offering choices and problem-solving together, to elicit good behaviour from children.”
Those lied to more as children were at greater risk of aggression and rule-breaking.
This may result from undermining children’s well-being, Dr Peipei said:
“Authority assertion over children is a form of psychological intrusiveness, which may undermine children’s sense of autonomy and convey rejection, ultimately undermining children’s emotional well-being.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology (Setoh et al., 2019).