Monday, December 1, 2008

On Lying

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

So anyway, Ryan has been going through a bit of a lying phase. It started a couple of months ago, and seems to be diminishing, thankfully.

All kids will stretch the truth from time to time, of course. But there was a difference in this latest round of Truth Experimentation which is somewhat difficult for me to describe. When Ryan was younger, and I've seen this with Morgan and some of their friends who are younger, the "lying" isn't really premeditated--they lie in the moment, often when asked a stupid or obvious question by an adult. An example:

"Did you pick up your toys?" Mom asks, looking at toy-filled room (And yes, I'm guilty of such dumb questions! I'm a very tired Mommy.)

Child thinks, What does mom want to hear? and comes out with, "Yes!"

Okay, that's a lie, yes. But Ryan's finally progressed to the premeditated lying stage. With malice aforethought. Well, maybe not always malice, but frequently forethought.

This is an entirely different degree of lying and when we discovered it, we were extremely disappointed and upset. Yet the lying continued, until we came up with two strategies that seem to get through to him. I'm not saying that he'll never lie again, but I've definitely noticed an improvement in the last month or two since we've been applying these strategies.

What I do when I discover a lie is to say something like, "Well, this is what I saw with my eyes [insert description]." or "I am using my eyes and my ears and my mind and I can decide what's true for myself--and what you are saying is not true."

I like this strategy because it reinforces lots of good philosophy.

Good Metaphysics: It demonstrates that reality is real and objective--saying that A is B does not make it so. I make a point of showing that I know that A is A.

Good Epistemology: This strategy models good epistemology--I am showing that I rely on my senses as well as my mind to know about reality. Which is great when I can catch the lie as it's happening, but I also explain it to him when I draw an inference about the truth, which is what I did the day after he wrote the word ASS on the wall. He tried to blame his friends (but only half-heartedly, as he suspected we already knew the truth). I told him that while I didn't see who wrote the word on the wall, I could tell he was the culprit because A) one of his friends hadn't been over that day, and B) the friend who had been over can't write. I think Ryan appreciated the logic of my case. :o)

The second strategy we have used to curtail the lying is grounded in Ethics. We have discussed the damage to relationships that lying can cause, that he should be self-interested in the truth, both as a way to be just and loving to his family and friends and as a way to be just to himself. But I think the most powerful ethical argument has been reminding him of the times when he has told the truth and what happened then. He remembers his feeling of pride and also the fact that we didn't get angry with him, but rather, we helped him handle the problem. He has also remarked that he feels sad and mad with himself when he has lied--which is a proper feeling, so I think that's a good thing. As he gets more experience with the good feelings of being truthful (even when it's hard) and the bad ones of deception, I think it will be easier for him to make the right decision. (Again, not that he won't ever make bad decisions.)

We've also discussed the role of context in truth-telling, and he is very hyper-aware that it's okay to lie to Bad Guys. :o) In fact, he asked me about this a few nights ago, remarking something to the effect that it would be wrong to tell the truth to a Bad Guy who asked you where you kept your money, since he'd just want to steal it. Yes!

So those are some of my thoughts on the lying issue--I'm sure we'll have to come up with different tactics for different kids, or possibly different developmental phases. Thoughts? Any other things I should be mindful of?

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