Lying is an important part of parenting. Maybe the most important part. The truth is often difficult to understand, cruel, or inappropriate. Imagine telling a young child that her drawing of a pony isn’t worthy of your garbage can, let alone the fridge. Imagine telling a five-year-old that his puppy didn’t really “go to live on a farm,” but instead “got pancaked by a Greyhound bus.”
White lies like this are acceptable to protect the sanity of little ones. But when you stop to think about it, some lies parents tell their kids aren’t only unnecessary, they’re potentially very harmful.
If you keep making that face, it’ll get stuck that way!
When you’re a young kid, goofy faces are one of the highest forms of entertainment available. It’s one reason you should never take a young child to the hospital burn ward. Presumably the threat that your face would get stuck was intended to get you to stop. But that’s a pretty ineffective threat when having your face stuck that way would, in the mind of a young child, make you the world’s greatest comedian.
Eat your carrots, they give you night vision
When I heard this from my parents, I heard it as “eat carrots and you’ll become a superhuman.” This inevitably resulted in some calamity when I tried putting my newfound powers to the test.
The Tooth Fairy
There are other made-up characters parents tell their kids about. The Easter Bunny and (SPOILER ALERT) Santa Claus are two big ones. But something about the Tooth Fairy seems especially off. When you lose your baby teeth, you put them under your pillow and the tooth fairy breaks into your house to steal them one by one in exchange for pocket change. But why is she doing this? If she wants the teeth that badly, is there some secret value to them we don’t know about? There has to be unless she is just using this as part of a money laundering operation. I got a silver dollar, but are those even legal tender anymore? It’s like she’s one of the lost Lindbergh baby kidnappers. (That joke would have KILLED in 1940). Aside from how weird she is, the worst thing about the Tooth Fairy is that she encourages kids to do some pretty terrible things. It’s not too complicated for kids to figure out: teeth = money. Tell your kids about the tooth fairy and you’re going to have a dental emergency on your hands.
If you tell the truth, I’ll punish you less
I think everyone heard this from their parents at one time or another, but was your punishment actually lessened as the result of being honest? No, your parents knew you did it and already had your punishment decided when they told you the lie about honesty, so when you fessed up you still got punished. Again, not a complicated lesson for kids to figure out: always lie.
The Ugly Duckling
We all remember this story: ugly duckling is ostracized by the other ducklings and doesn’t get to play in all their reindeer games.
After a tough childhood and awkward adolescence he becomes an adult and it turns out he is a swan, and his grace and beauty put all the dime-a-dozen ducks to shame. It’s been a
few weeks long time since my mom cradled my sobbing head in her arms and told me that story, but I think the moral of the story is that even if you’re an awkward weirdo as a youth it’s ok because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Well, that moral is all well and good for the people who grow up to be swans, but what about the people who grow up just to be ugly ducks? If you’re the parent of an ugly duckling you don’t want them to lose hope, but is lying to them that they’re a swan really that much better? The story should instead have the ugly duckling inventing facebook, becoming a real estate mogul, or starting a word press blog so that kids will know to prepare for the future. You may not grow up to be a swan, but you can still find a way one-up those lousy ducks!