|From Kelly Sikkema|
The necessary ingredients for deception
2. Lying also involves executive functioning skills - the ability to observe, plan and restrain one's impulses. In essence, children who can determine both when and how to lie are more successful and believable liars. Lee noted that in addition to understanding what others are thinking, they also must be able to plan ahead and restrain their impulses.
Once children discover how to lie, they continue to refine their skills!
Researcher Kang Lee reported that approximately 30% of two-year-olds, 50% of three-year-olds, and 80% of four-year-olds lie. However, once children stumble upon their capacity for deception, they recognize that they must refine this skill. As their capacity for empathy increases, children learn when lying might be acceptable, and sort out when, where, how, and to what extent they will engage in deception.
Children also eventually grapple with their sense of morality and integrity. Researcher Gail Heyman claimed that "the initial discovery of deception is not an endpoint. Rather, it’s the first step in a long developmental trajectory. After this discovery, children typically learn when to deceive, but in doing so they must sort through a confusing array of messages about the morality of deception." According to Heyman:
"As they develop, children often learn how to employ more nuanced forms of manipulation, such as using flattery as a means to curry favor, steering conversations away from uncomfortable topics and presenting information selectively to create a desired impression. By mastering these skills, they gain the power to help shape social narratives in ways that can have far-reaching consequences for themselves and for others."
White lies are the most common example of the gray areas associated with lying. Prosocial lying, or using deception to avoid hurting others' feelings, is often condoned. How many parents have begged their children to express gratitude for a disappointing birthday present, or refrain from telling relatives they were bored during a recent visit? Children are astute observers of behavior, and notice that adults around them lie to protect others from negative feelings or opinions. And their openness to expressing white lies increases with age. Researcher Victoria Talwar, for example, found that the willingness to engage in prosocial lying increased from 72 percent among 3- to 5-year-olds to 84 percent among 9- to 11-year-olds.
As children mature, lying becomes more complicated
While most parents can overlook - and even laugh about - their young child's fumbling attempts to deceive, lying becomes more problematic as children mature. Deceptive behavior in adolescence may seem like a rite of passage, yet generates conflict, distrust, and many parents' sleepless nights. Why do teens lie so much? According to psychologist Carl Pickhardt, teens lie "for freedom's sake — to escape punishment for misbehavior or to get to do what has been forbidden. To many teenagers, lying seems to be the easy way to get out of trouble or to get to do some adventure that has been disallowed."
Researcher Nancy Darling studied deception in adolescents worldwide, and claimed that 98% of teens lie to their parents. She identified three reasons for lying: “they think they will get in trouble, they think their parents will be disappointed in them, and they think their parents will stop them from doing something they want to do in the future.” Gifted teens may not necessarily lie more than their peers, but are particularly skilled at devising stories to justify their lying, and masters at arguing and defending themselves. Parents may not believe the lies, but fail to break through their gifted teen's impenetrable defenses.
Nevertheless, many adolescents struggle with the moral implications of lying. Some even devise complex decision-making constructs that condone deception under certain conditions. For example, some teens may adhere to complete honesty among friends, but cheat on tests (especially when they have lost respect for school). Others may lie to their parents about alcohol use, but maintain honesty and integrity with their teachers. Gifted teens, who often feel drawn to what they view as fair and just, may grapple with their own "hypocrisy" as they attempt to justify lying under specific conditions.
What can you do?
"The recipe for honesty turns out to be cultivating warm, strong relationships with teens so they respect your rules and value your advice... Research suggests that teens lie less when they have this kind of relationship with their parents, in part because they don’t feel like they need to, and in part because they don’t want to risk losing their parents’ trust."
6. Despite its developmental normalcy, recognize when lying is a symptom of a more serious problem. Red flags include lying on a regular basis, if lying negatively affects their functioning at school or with friends, if it is associated with stealing or other transgressions against others, and if fueled by drug or alcohol use. Lying also can reflect apathy or frustration with school, other's expectations, or family norms, and may represent a form of protest against a situation or relationship that upsets your child. When deception is more serious, consider meeting with a licensed mental health professional for support.
It is disheartening to admit that everyone lies. We need to remember this reality, though, as we navigate parenting a gifted child. If your child has not lied to you yet, just wait; they will not disappoint! Your job as a parent requires you to remain flexible, although firmly grounded in your beliefs as well as your love for your child.
Additional helpful articles about deception and how to intervene with your child: