I'm continuing to make my way through the book, Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children. Chapter 4 poses the question, "Why do kids lie?" The obvious answer put forth by the authors is they lie to avoid being punished. But the interesting part of this chapter dealt with how we can teach our kids to lie less. To answer that question, Dr. Victoria Talwar, one of the world's leading experts on children's lying behavior, conducted a rather odd experiment. One of her researchers read aloud two short stories to a group of children. The first story was The Boy Who Cried Wolf in which both the boy and the sheep get eaten because of repeated lies. Alternatively, the second story was George Washington and the Cherry Tree where young George confesses to his father that he chopped down the prized tree and his father praises George for telling the truth. Now ... which of these stories do you think reduced lying more?
According to Talwar's research, kids lied even more than usual after hearing The Boy Who Cried Wolf. However, after hearing George Washington and the Cherry Tree their lying was reduced 75% among boys and 50% among girls. Talwar explained her findings this way:
Young kids are lying to make you happy--trying to please you. So telling kids that the truth will make a parent happy challenges the original thought that hearing good news--not the truth--is what will please the parent. That's why George Washington and the Cherry Tree works so well. Little George receives immunity and praise for telling the truth.
Biblically speaking, this research supports the fact that the threat of punishment cannot stop our kids from lying (or sinning). In fact, even though discipline is God's tool to train our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, it cannot change our children's hearts. To say it another way, the law is not the gospel--it points us to the gospel. It is a tutor to Christ -- the only one who can bring heart change. We see this in Genesis 3 after the very first sin. Adam and Eve are punished but God doesn't end there. He follows the punishment with a promise. The promise (Gen. 3:15) is that one day Christ will come to conquer Satan and defeat the power of sin and death. This promise is the only hope of change.
So, why do kids lie? They're sinners like us. And how do we stop them from lying? Give them the gospel. Always give them the gospel--especially in the context of discipline. And don't allow the punishment to overshadow the promise. Because the promise is their only hope for true heart change.
Read my thoughts on the previous 3 chapters: