Should You Lie to Your Kid? The Great Debate

Ana Connery
December 21, 2015

Kids are nothing if not curious, peppering their parents with questions from the moment they’re able to form them. The older they get, the deeper they seem to probe, and the harder it gets for moms and dads to tell them harmless fibs without fear of getting caught. From “where do babies come from?” to the more prickly “did you ever smoke pot?” and “why are you and dad fighting?” there are moments when every parent is tempted to tell a big, fat lie — or at least gloss over the truth.

Kids’ queries are not the only things that prompt parents to lie. Depending on the child’s age, there are plenty of situations that most experts and parents agree may actually call for a bit of dishonesty. Sometimes we do it to protect our kids from events we don’t think they’re mature enough to handle, such as a terror attack or a family member’s terminal diagnosis. Other times we’re protecting our own privacy (“What were you and Aunt Lucy talking about on the phone?”) or trying to spare their feelings (“Why wasn’t I invited to Beth’s party?”), and when they’re younger, we often do it to encourage good behavior (“Santa is watching.”)

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But when is it OK to lie to your kids, and when should you opt to tell the truth? And perhaps just as important, does lying to your kids do more harm than good over the long run?

What the research says

Eighty-four percent of Redbook magazine readers surveyed admit to lying to their kids about once a month, and more than 76 percent of them said they felt guilty about telling their kids lies.

OK, so we’re lying to our kids, but is that harmful? The answer may depend on a host of factors, including age, maturity level, and the nature and purpose of the deception. Here’s something to consider: A University of California, San Diego study found that the more children are lied to, the greater the likelihood that they themselves will cheat and lie. The takeaway seems to be to choose your fibs wisely and, for goodness’s sake, space them out.

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Another research study, this one from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that kids can tell if parents are committing “sins of omission” — that is, only telling half-truths, prompting children not to trust them. “This shows that children are not just sensitive to who’s right or wrong,” lead author Hyowon Gweon told Time magazine. “Children can also evaluate others based on who’s providing information that is enough or not enough for accurate inference.”

What the experts say

“There are no hard and fast rules about what is and isn’t OK to lie to your kids about,” social worker and family therapist Jennifer Mansell told Today’s Parent. “Instead, it’s important for parents to examine the intent behind their lies.” Most experts seem to agree that there isn’t a need for chronic lying, nor for lying simply for the sake of it. When it’s to preserve a tradition such as Santa Claus or the tooth fairy, for example, the benefits of the lie will likely outweigh the costs until kids reach the appropriate age. “When your kid starts questioning the likeliness of these characters, it’s time to come clean,” Mansell says.

What about more difficult subjects, such as whether you experimented with drugs or alcohol as a teen? “Part of your job as a parent is to cater what you divulge to the age and development of your child,” Michele Borba, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know, told Redbook. “Often, it’s smarter to tell just a little part of the story rather than the whole messy truth.” For example, maybe you tell your generally responsible 16-year-old that you tried alcohol, but a mischievous and rebellious teen (or tween) is told an entirely different story. Manipulating the truth a little is sometimes the most responsible thing a parent can do.

What if you’re caught in a lie? Chances are your kid will be upset and you might feel a bit foolish, both of which will usually quickly pass. But if it happens a lot, your child may start questioning everything you say and stop trusting you altogether. “Kids need their parents to be a rock of certainty, and each lie is a chip off that certainty,” Nancy Darling, professor of psychology at Oberlin College, told Redbook. You don’t want to lie so often that kids become chronic fibbers themselves, nor do you want to lie to the point that you miss opportunities to discuss difficult subjects, such as sex or illness. “I think your children look to you to be their protector and guide and instruct them,” psychologist Jennifer Hartstein, PhD, told CBS News. “The more [lies] we tell, the less likely they are going to be to trust you — and trust other people.” This can backfire when those teachable moments arise and it becomes critical that they not only hear what you have to say, but trust your words too.

What the parents say

“I have a younger sister who loves to tell tales to her nieces and nephews about when their parents were young and the mischief we got ourselves into. Now that my kids are in their teens, I think it’s about age-appropriateness. It’s probably not a good idea to tell my teenage son that I snuck out of the house after bedtime to meet my friends. However, sometimes a little white lie might make the world a happier place for everyone, and it’s in the best interest of the child not to know the truth.” — Julie Sheehan Bergin, Lynbrook, N.Y.

“I want my sons to feel like they can trust me, but at the same time, they don’t need to know every little thing. Otherwise they will worry about things they can’t control. If a parent loses a job, for example, that can sound scary to a 9-year-old. It’s a delicate balance.” — Jeffrey Downey, Columbus, Ohio

“I recently lost a very dear friend to breast cancer. It was a long and painful six-year battle. The family chose not to tell the daughters (ages 6 and 13) until the weekend before she passed. This haunts me. I have no idea when you tell your children this horrible news, but both are very bright and watched her body be taken over first by chemo, then cancer. I wonder with a grief-ridden, torn heart what that has done to their childhood — to their trust. There is no easy answer.” — Melissa Bilash, Wayne, Pa.

The bottom line

You’d be hard-pressed to find an expert who will tell you that lying to kids about whether the zoo is open is going to harm them, especially when they’re young. But if you do feel the need to lie, you probably want to tailor the lies to their age, telling them as much of the truth as your instincts deem necessary at the moment. If you do tell a few lies here and there when you feel it’s appropriate, don’t feel guilty about it, but try not to do it often. Over time, kids may begin to distrust you, and you may end up missing out on opportunities to teach them important life lessons.

The secret to achieving better work-life balance

The secret to achieving better work-life balance

(BPT) – If you’re feeling overworked and finding it a challenge to juggle the demands of your job and the rest of your life, then you’re not alone. Achieving the elusive work-life balance may be getting harder with today’s connected lifestyle, but it is still possible.

A better work-life balance doesn’t just happen overnight. It requires a lot of patience, careful thinking and attention toward understanding what is most important to you and your family. First you must focus on prioritizing your personal and professional life. Consider all the things that compete for your time. Then decide what to keep and what to discard. Think of it as streamlining your priorities, sorted by the activities that are the most important.

“No matter how hard you try, you can’t squeeze more hours into your day,” says Dr. Nancy Aragon, professor of industrial organizational psychology at Argosy University, Online Programs. “What you can do though is make more efficient use of your time. It takes persistent planning to get a management system started, but keeping a time diary helps you to become more aware of where your time is being spent.”

Aragon recommends a weekly block schedule coupled with a daily to-do list. The block schedule should be a fairly permanent, regular weekly plan that allows adequate time for necessary, recurring activities such as cooking, exercising, homework, grocery shopping, work, etc. A critical element to include in the block schedule is “flexible time” or free time that is purposely built into your schedule. Scheduling flexible time is a way to account for unexpected, but inevitable events to be worked into your life with minimal disruption to your regular routine. In effect, you plan for the unexpected.

And although technology has the potential to improve the quality and efficiency of your daily life, it also has the potential to encroach on your work-life balance. “Set boundaries when it comes to technology,” says Aragon. “Schedule time for you and your family when it comes to accepting calls, texts, or emails. Make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of what acceptable technology use is, and what crosses the line into technology abuse.” In other words, technology doesn’t have to be eliminated, but its use does need to be purposefully managed and monitored.

Also keep in mind the power of attitude. Learn to monitor your attitude and its impact on your work performance, relationships and everyone around you. A positive attitude can make a big difference in your energy, your focus and your pace toward achieving balance. You can’t always change your circumstances, but you certainly can change how you react to them.

In addition, do not try to live up to other’s expectations. “Work-life balance is a very personal matter. If you seek to find your own balance by emulating the ideals, priorities and expectations of others, you are doomed to miss the mark,” adds Aragon. “It can require some courage to live by your own values and ideals rather than what seems to be the prevailing social norm, but the payoff is worth taking that venture out of your normative comfort zone.” This is an important truth to keep in mind for not only improving your work-life balance, but also finding success.

In the end, you need to find the right balance that works for you. Celebrate your successes and don’t dwell on your failures. Life is a process, and so is striving for balance in your life.

Nomophobia: When a modern smartphone affliction leads to addiction

people on cell phone
Nomophobia: When a modern smartphone affliction leads to addiction

(BPT) – Everyday technology consumes everyone’s lives as the phone, computer, tablet and other high tech devices have become not just an object, but also a close companion. And for those who are extremely connected to their devices, going without them, even for only a few minutes, can be an anxiety-filled experience.

A majority of American adults (56 percent) own smartphones, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. Having the ability to check your mail, play games and browse the Internet right in your pocket is a leap forward for technology and staying connected to the workplace, but it may come at a cost.

Nomophobia, or the pathological fear of remaining out of touch with technology, is a relatively modern affliction. It’s basically a side effect from changes the mobile phone has made to human habits, behaviors and even the way we perceive reality. Entire relationships are becoming defined through mobile texting and colorful little emoticons, from saying “I love you” to “I think we should move on.”

So how did it come to this? Have smart­phones become an exten­sion of Americans or is everyone simply becoming victims of a fast-paced, always connected society? Chances are it’s a little bit of both.

Dr. Chuck Howard, licensed psychologist and chair of the psychology programs at Argosy University, Denver, believes it can be more complex than simply stamping a label on the problem.

“Nomophobia is a result of people becoming more and more electronically connected to the point that their technology-based network and relationships become their home community,” says Howard. “Losing that connection is essentially a form of electronic banishment. They fear being tossed out of, or losing their ‘social village.’”

The term was originally coined from a 2010 study by YouGov, a UK-based research organization that wanted to look at anxieties suffered by mobile phone users. The study found that men and women often felt stressed when their mobile phones were turned off.

“Nomophobia can be a symptom of a potential addiction,” says Howard. “Users who are happy and having a good time when on their device, then face great stress and anxiety without it. They may obsess about it. They can’t put it down. This is when actual addiction becomes a threat.”

When you see a behavior becoming destructive, and admit to having a problem, you can handle it in the same way as other types of addiction. “Develop strategies for meeting your social needs in other ways … without depending on an electronic platform,” suggests Howard.

Start by resisting the urge to constantly check your phone. Try limiting your number of mobile social media networks and consider joining more in-person professional networking groups or sports clubs. Set aside some time to leave your phone alone, such as at dinner, with friends or going to sleep.

If it becomes an addiction and begins to strain your relationships, consider asking others around you what they think. Be open to a sort of intervention where friends and family may candidly tell you their thoughts. No need to go cold-turkey, just take some small steps at a time to disconnect and enjoy the world around you, without looking through a smartphone screen. And lastly if you can’t do it alone, then seek professional help.