by Mark Salamon, May 1, 2017
Ok all you parents out there get ready for some medical news that is going to make you question everything you have ever done in raising your children. A stunning new research study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that children as young as two-and-a-half may know when adults are lying.
I know. Like a punch in the gut, isn’t it? As the parent of three daughters who were at one time young, this finding is forcing me to question a very basic tenant that we used when raising our girls. Namely, the best parents are the ones who can lie quickly when they screw up. You parents out there know exactly what I’m talking about. For example, I’m reading the newspaper one Sunday morning when one of my daughters comes out of her room, confused look on her face, and announces that the tooth fairy did not come. That’s what she actually said. What I heard was, “what kind of dumbass father are you?” But instead of smacking myself in the forehead, which is what every cell in my body wanted to do, I remained calm, and in microseconds I realized that it had snowed the night before, providing me with a ready-made story that the tooth fairy must have been stuck in the snow. Sure enough, the following night the tooth fairy did come, and left extra cash to make up for the delayed delivery.
Santa also screwed up once at our house. My parents had bought a wooden rocking horse that was to be from Santa, so I hid it under a blanket in the basement, where it remained until well after Christmas morning came and went. But did I choke? No. My fast acting parent brain sprang into action. While my wife distracted the girls, I snuck the horse out back and took it up on the roof, placing it right next to the chimney. I called my parents and told them the plan, so when they arrived at our house they told the girls they saw something strange up on the roof. “Santa must not have been able to fit it down the chimney” was the story, and the girls were totally blown away. The twins are now twenty, and our youngest is seventeen, and I firmly believe that because of this event, they still completely believe in Santa.
Lying quickly like this is a basic parenting skill. And the trick to raising good kids who will one day make good parents is to teach them this, while simultaneously teaching them that lying is bad. This can only be accomplished if you can tell when your kids are lying, which when they are very young, is pretty easy. They give off obvious signals, such as opening their mouths and making sounds come out. This is a strong indicator that they are lying. As they get older it is a little harder to detect, so parents have to employ more sophisticated techniques such as getting jobs at their kids school and finding out, through a network of informants consisting of their friend’s younger siblings, everything in the universe.
Another technique that saves some time is looking at your kid’s floor. This only works when your child happens to be in the stage where everything they own, including notes they pass around in class, is on the floor. As easy as this sounds, your kids will truly believe you have magical powers, because they also happen to be in a stage of development where they can perform algebra, text blindfolded with one hand, navigate the internet, recite every word of all sixteen Harry Potter movies, and yet have a hard time figuring out how we manage to read notes that are lying around on the floor.
But this new research has filled me with a sense of dread, a sense that a large chunk of my life’s work as a parent has been a joke, a farce, a lie that my kids have been laughing about since they were two-and-a-half. I’m afraid that they will take this research to heart when they raise their own kids and just give up lying all together. I picture them explaining to my three year old grandchildren exactly where babies really come from, and all of them having a good laugh at “the stories that grandpa used to tell mommy when I was a little girl”.
What is this world coming to?