Lying May Be Good for Kids, Study Suggests

Filed under: In The News, Development: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Behavior: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Development: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Development: Tweens, Behavior: Tweens, Research Reveals: Tweens


Will your lying kid be a successful adult? Credit: Corbis


A moldy proverb tells us only children and fools tell the truth.


Whoever said that, of course, was a fool who never had children. The little so-and-sos rank with politicians as the world's most industrious, conscientious and creative liars.

Good for them, say researchers in Toronto.

Their studies show children who are manufacturing and selling their own version of reality by age 2 have fast-developing brains and are more likely to have successful lives.

Lying particularly speaks well of children's abilities to think on their feet
, Dr. Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, tells the Daily Telegraph in London.

Lee led the team of researchers who tested every single child on the planet and ... OK, that's a lie. They really tested 1,200 children ranging in age from 2 to 16.

Researchers placed young children in a room with hidden cameras and placed a soft toy behind them. While researchers left the room, the children were told not to look at it. In nine out of 10 cases, the cameras caught them peeking.

Older kids were given a test, and were told not to look at the answers printed on the back of the paper.

One of the questions was, "Who discovered Tunisia?" Researchers gave the fake answer "Presidius Akeman." Kids peeked and gave the made-up answer. Asked where they got it, they said they learned it in history class.

"Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib," Lee tells the Telegraph. "Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks. They may make bankers in later life."

Lee tells the newspaper lying involves multiple brain processes. You have to mentally collect sources of information and manipulate the data to your advantage, which requires a great deal of thinking and reasoning.

Thus, Lee says, lying is linked to the development of brain regions that allow "executive functioning."

The Daily Telegraph reports the majority of children tested told lies, but the smartest kids told the best lies.

At the age of 2, the study concludes, 20 percent of children will lie. This shoots up to 50 percent by the time kids hit 3. By the time they reach 4, according to researchers, at least 90 percent of them lie.

When puberty rolls around, almost all of them are lying. They don't start to fall out of practice, according to the study, until they hit 16. At that point, about 70 percent of kids are still lying.

By the time they reach adulthood, Lee tells the Telegraph, most people are confining themselves to little white lies to spare other people's feelings.

Lee tells the newspaper parents shouldn't worry too much if their small child tells lies. Researchers conclude there is no link between telling childhood fibs and cheating on exams or becoming a professional liar later in life.

And strict parenting can't keep kids from lying, Lee tells the Telegraph: If a kid's going to lie, he's going to lie. Lee suggests catching children in their lies and using it as a "teachable moment."

"You shouldn't smack or scream at your child, but you should talk about the importance of honesty and the negativity of lying," he tells The Times of London. "After the age of 8, the opportunities are going to be very rare."

Related: C'mon, Tell the Truth - You Lie to Your Kids, Right?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.