It is easy to be honest when the truth suits us, but when we want to avoid the truth (like a poor choice bringing shame, or a person’s reaction to the truth), or a desire to manipulate others to submit to our own agenda, then we are all tempted to lie.
Kids have access to Internet-connections at earlier ages making communications clandestine, and some of the lies the kids in the network are experiencing include:
- Minors are entitled to privacy from their parents
- It is possible to have 1,500 “friends” (most of them strangers) – my tiny circle of friends is not enough
- Pedophiles posing as kids in social media
- Binge drinking is safe if you don’t drive
We all know the danger for our youth in the social network is to be keeping secrets which usually involve risky behavior (meeting strangers they met on-line, sending nude photos, coordinating drug and alcohol access) or dangerous situations causing feelings of shame (being exploited or bullied). Fear of loss of esteem and shame convinces children that it is safer to keep parents unaware. They think they have more to gain by keeping the lie they are experiencing a secret, rather than being honest with parents.
Compounding this risk is that texting and social media communications make it very easy to conceal events and activities, so parents, have a more challenging time knowing what is really happening with their children’s lives. In this scenario, the lie is empowered and the child is kept in bondage.
No privacy for minors
The main reason why parents must not grant children privacy is not because they need to be control of the child’s life. Rather children need parents to be present in meaningful ways that steward the child into a mature state of adulthood that is secure – rooted in wisdom. It is to exercise the protective cover of the genuine authority children need to experience for two main reasons: 1) it is instructive, and 2) it is love in action; the signal to the child is “your life matters”.
The honesty policy empowers
In this regard, honesty, as a family value, keeps us safe in cyber-powered network that tries to convince us we need to lower personal standards in order to be accepted. Children need to understand that honesty as your personal policy limits the power you give up to those who would otherwise harm or compromise you. If you have nothing to hide, then a bad actor has no leverage to manipulate and intimidate.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” – John 8:32
So the question children need to be asking themselves often is: would my mom, dad or grandmother be proud if they read or witnessed this? Is this decision setting a good example for my younger brother or sister? Would my family recognize me?
This is why transparency with texting and social media applications is a cornerstone of cyber-safe house rules. If your children know that you will be doing random checks on texting and posts to social media, and you acknowledge that you find them making good decisions – this reinforces your value for honesty.
Truth is not a weapon
The honesty policy must be handled with compassion. Most children can fathom empathy (i.e., how would you feel in that situation?), and being honest should not be an excuse for venting, being mean or putting another person down in order to build yourself up.
Encourage your child to put herself in the other person’s shoes. Don’t express your feelings if they will only make a person feel bad. Find a way to make your feelings instructive or say nothing at all.
When my oldest son was ten years old he was traveling with relatives in a car. One of the other children (a second cousin) was singing loudly, incessantly and it was getting very annoying. Her grandmother kept asking her to stop, and voices were raised to try and get her to stop. Finally my son leaned over and politely asked her to sing that song in her head. And she immediately stopped.
Lying is not a phase; it is learned
We know that lying reflects a level of sophisticated thinking that all kids will experience and attempt. When they are very young, and you catch them in a lie, use it as an opportunity to discuss honesty, and lying. The key is to not over or under react.
In their book, Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children (2009) Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman address the topic of children lying and what to do about it. According to them, most parents discover children lying at early ages do not address it because they consider it “innocent” (p.80), and they believe that the lying will eventually stop as they mature. Not so. “The children will grow into it.”
Moreover Bronson and Merryman found that if by age seven a child is not redirected to stop lying, the chances are great that it could become a strategy to cope (p.83). They conclude that the best way to discourage lying is to teach kids the value of honesty, as well as that lying is wrong (p. 86).
So if your child is honest about breaking a rule or doing something wrong, acknowledge their honesty in some way to reinforce its value.
When my younger son received his provisional driver’s license, we got word that he had violated the provisional terms from a parent of a peer. Later that day, my husband asked my son what happened right after school and our son did admit (without having to be prompted) that he had given someone a ride home because it was such a warm day. For this incident his dad rewarded the honesty with a warning that he would loose his driving privilege if he does not comply with the terms of his license. Relieved that he was given a warning, our son wanted to know how we knew that he had given his friend a ride home. My husband just told him that his mother is very well connected.
Of course the most important way to express your value of honesty is to be honest in your dealings with your family and others. Since children observe our actions more than they listen to what we tell them to do, our own interactions are object lessons for children. So if our own personal strategy does not require honesty with our spouses, relatives or friends, then we should not expect our children to fully embrace honesty as a policy by which to live.
And more importantly, being an honest person does mean that you as a parent are required to give answers to children about all things at all times.
In the early childhood years, honesty must be balanced with protective cover. For example, some parents feel like hypocrites for not being truthful about their risky exploits as adolescents when their children inquire, or parents fail to hold the line for sobriety for minors because of their own risky teenage past. Truthfully, minor children need parents to be authentic role models as the adult today, not as the adolescent of yesterday. Allowing conversations about what risks you took as a teenager could dilute the message to avoid the harmful effects of abusing drugs and alcohol. Your child may presume safe harbor in risky choices through the lens of your past experience.
On the other hand, depending upon the child and your experience, talking about decisions you today regret and why you expect your child to adhere to a different standard may strengthen your child’s resolve to stick with legal and safe norms.
Interestingly, a recent study reported in NJ.com found that parents who admitted drug use when they were younger resulted in teens more likely to use and abuse drugs. Whereas parents who did not discuss their teenage exploits had children less likely to become involved with drug use. Note that the age group surveyed was sixth, seventh and eight graders – a critical time for holding up the norms for what is legal and safe.
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Colossians 3:20
Ultimately, parents are called to “be the compass” they want their children to use for life. Keeping it simple and age-appropriate is probably the most helpful and least stressful way to help children experience the peace of living an honest life. Too much information can stir doubt and disrupt the peace.
For more about youth substance abuse prevention go to: Coalition For Placer Youth.
Joanna Jullien is an author and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, a contributor for Three Moms and a Mike, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.