Most mothers and fathers practice “Pinocchio parenting” — teaching their kids that lying is bad while regularly fibbing to them, according to a pair of new studies in the Journal of Moral Education.
Researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of California found that parents who stress the importance of truth-telling to their little ones quite often tell lies to influence the children’s behaviour or emotions, whether it’s an idle threat to make them eat their peas or boost their confidence by praising their ear-splitting saxophone solo.
“Because it’s easy, we just do it,” Dr. Kang Lee of the University of Toronto tells the Globe and Mail. “Some parents may have been doing it for years and they really have no idea they are actually telling lies.” Lee’s study doesn’t look at the impact of Pinocchio Parenting on kids, but he confesses he’s guilty of it himself.
To quell his son’s habit of fidgeting in his car-seat, the savvy dad renamed the hazard button on his dashboard the “eject” button. If dad presses the button, six-year-old Nathan thinks he’ll be catapulted from the vehicle. “I just put my hand over it” and Nathan behaves, Dr. Lee says.
Teachers in particular are guilty of what the researchers describe as the “confidence boosting lie” — telling students they are excellent writers, for example, when in fact they are average or worse. Teachers in my elementary school trained in the Teacher’s College Writer’s Workshop were expected to give a compliment to every student at the start of each “conference” and required to record it in our conference notes. The intended effect obviously was to boost confidence and inspire additional effort. The danger (equally obvious) was that students might overestimate their ability, slack off, and be set up for disappointment later on.