Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Sue Scheff: Teens and Lying - Is it ever acceptable?
Source: Connect with Kids
Teens and Lying
“In our culture, truth is such a premium in the public discourse. I think that emphasizes the importance of finding it and promoting it within ourselves, and in others.”
– Hal Thorsrud, Ph.D, assistant professor of philosophy, Agnes Scott College
As final exams and academic evaluations approach in schools nationwide, consider this finding from a study conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics: Cheaters in high school are far more likely as adults to lie to their spouses, customers and employers, and to cheat on expense reports and insurance claims.
How many lies do you tell a week? How about a day? According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll, ten percent of those surveyed said they had probably told a lie in the past week. 65 percent said sometimes, lying is morally justified.
So, is there such thing as a "good lie"?
"A good lie is something that I guess boosts someone's morale - makes someone feel better," says 15-year-old Lily Muntzing.
16-year-old Javonna disagrees. "No lie is a good lie," she says, "but if I was to tell a lie, I would tell, you know, a white lie because another lie - a major lie - would escalate into something bigger."
What do the experts say?
"Lying is morally wrong," says Hal Thorsrud, an assistant professor of philosophy at Agnes Scott College. "However," he laughs, "there are, I believe, cases in which lying is either morally irrelevant - trivial lies you might tell, to save someone's feelings - or cases in which it is useful to lie for the sake of a good cause."
He says the classic example of a good cause is the story of the murderer at your door, asking the whereabouts of the person they're looking to kill. In that scenario, it's perfectly moral to lie about the location of the intended victim.
"The crucial caveat here though is, if you are thinking about telling a lie for the sake of a good cause [there are] some very important things to consider," he says. "First, don't deceive yourself. Be sure that you're telling a lie and also be aware that the lie is not the good thing - it's what you're hoping to achieve by that lie. And be very cautious if that lie happens to coincide with your self- interests."
That means, he says, that lying to your parents to get out of trouble doesn't count as a good cause.
16-year-old Laura Lion once lied to her mom about where she was going. "I told her that I was going to go spend the night at my friend's house," she says, "but I went to a concert instead, then went to a party. She found out, and grounded me for a month."
Experts say that, for some teens, lying is a part of the struggle for independence.
"'You're not the boss of me'- it's the war cry of every teenager, probably," says Thorsrud. "Even though that autonomy and that freedom is very scary, it's so desirable. And it drives kids to do just about anything to get it."
Ironically, experts say one of the best ways to teach teens the value of honesty and moral integrity is when the teen makes a mistake - or when they're caught in a lie.
"Sometimes the best way to learn about integrity is to be out of integrity - and to experience the pain and the shame and the restlessness and the feeling of not feeling good inside," explains Dr. Tim Jordan, a pediatric developmental behavioral health specialist. "To me, that is the best deterrent."
Javonna's learned her lesson that way: "It's a horrible feeling 'cause you know that you lied, and you know that you told this big old lie that everybody knows that you told."
Laura says what worked for her was her mom's disappointment: "It's more so when my mom says, 'well, I wish you could have trusted me - and if you're honest with me I'll give you more lenience.'"
Tips for Parents
Dishonesty may seem like a minor issue in comparison to other adolescent problems, but it is rooted in an attitude of disrespect – for others, for authority and for one's values. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, many children begin to lie at around four and five years old. Children of that age like to make up stories and blur the line between fantasy and reality. Older children begin to tell lies in a more self-serving manner, either to get out of trouble or to protect their privacy.
Parents should always look for those teachable moments in which the importance of honesty and truthfulness can be discussed. Use positive reinforcement and praise your child for being honest. Also, model honest behavior. Teach your children to be truthful by showing them honesty. If you have lied to your child in the past, you may have some issues to deal with beyond simply setting consequences. If there is one behavior that turns teens off, it is adult hypocrisy. This is not to say parents must be perfect, but you also cannot say to your child, "I'm adult so I can lie, but you can't." Teens simply don't buy that argument.
If you find that your child is lying, try to determine why they thought lying was the best choice in this situation. If there is a reason why your child felt compelled to lie, you want to know it so you can possibly eliminate any misunderstandings. Did your child lie about failing a test because he or she thought you would be angry? Perhaps he needs additional help. Did your child lie about a party because alcohol would be present, which is unacceptable to your family? You may find your child lied simply because they knew the behavior was wrong and they didn't want to get caught. This will mean you need to let them know in very clear terms what behaviors are unacceptable and what the consequences will be, not only for repeating that behavior, but for lying about it. These are two separate events that will lead to separate sets of consequences.
■American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
■National Association for the Education of Young Children
■Josephson Institute of Ethics
■By Parents-For Parents