Lying to your kids is a parent’s rite of passage

RENDEZVIEW: For any parent who thinks they're above the act of telling white lies for some peace and quiet, I ask you to think about the tooth fairy, or Santa, or goldfish heaven. Face it, writes Darren Levin, we're all doing it.

Santa. The tooth fairy. Goldfish heaven. Do you really think you're above lying about these things? Of course you're not.

Parenting is built on a foundation of well-intentioned lies.

"If the wind changes it'll stay like that" didn't ever really protect your face from the elements.

"This will hurt me more than it hurts you" is a doozy from a simpler time when parents taught children that violence really does solve everything, as was "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed." I'm pretty sure you were mad.

Parents lie so much that this week, the hashtag #liesyourparentstoldyou started trending on Twitter, and showcased the creative ways in which parents deceive their children for the greater good, insulating them from humanity's darkest corners: a presumably young couple going at it in a park ("They're just wrestling, honey") to Disney's inexplicable obsession with killing parents ("Bambi's mother was just, um, lost in the woods").

There were lies that didn't even know they were lies.

"Study, get good grades, and one day you'll get a good job." Not in this economy, Dad!

Does it matter that we lie to our kids about Santa? Picture: iStock
Does it matter that we lie to our kids about Santa? Picture: iStock

There were lies that parents used to extract information out of you.

"If you tell me the truth I won't get angry."

"OK, fine. I smoked pot at a party once when I was 32."

"You're grounded. Go to your room."

The thread was even hijacked by the Leicestershire Police, who appealed to parents to stop telling their kids, "If you don't behave the policeman will lock you up", because they don't want children to fear cops. That one's backfired quite badly.

So why are parents such champion liars in the first place? And does it harm their children? I've never lied to my kids before so I decided to consult the same place I go to for medical diagnoses: the internet.

Roxy Jacenko told her two children their father was in China while he was serving time in jail. Picture: Stanley Images
Roxy Jacenko told her two children their father was in China while he was serving time in jail. Picture: Stanley Images

According to the Melbourne Child Psychology website, parents sometimes decide to "conceal the truth" (read: lie) to protect their kids from some of life's harshest realities. It's how they rationalised Sydney PR mogul Roxy Jacenko telling her kids that their dad was "in China for business" when he was, in fact, actually in a jail cell just a few hours down the road.

As for the ethics of lying to your kids, it's a bit of a choose your own adventure - as long as you're keeping their best interests in mind.

"Just remember to give age-appropriate responses," the experts suggest, adding, "and be prepared for the future consequences of any and everything you say."

It's similar to the advice leading child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Greg gave me when I told him I invented a bogeymonster to scare my three daughters into going to sleep. (OK, I was lying when I said I didn't lie.)

"This is to do with their wellbeing, so it's absolutely fine," he said, which suddenly made me feel a lot better about telling them McDonald's was shut when we drove past it at 1pm last week.

How are they going to feel when the day comes that they discover it's actually open 24 hours when they're 18, drunk and craving a hashbrown at 1am? Probably the same way I feel knowing I wasn't conceived by a sneeze, or that Grosby Aerosport runners weren't made in the same factory as expensive Nikes.

It's clear what we need. A Royal Commission. Now.

Darren Levin is a columnist for RendezView.com.au. @darren_levin