Children Who Are Lied to Are More Likely to Lie as Adults

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Oct 21, 2019

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Parents may think lying to get their kids to behave may be an effective technique, but new research has found that it actually ends up working the other way round — it encourages children to lie to their parents more as they reach adulthood and cause difficulties in meeting psychological and social challenges.

Think of all those instances when your parents told you to eat your food before the dogs come and steal it; to throw out seeds while eating fruits or a tree will grow in your stomach; to switch the TV off or they’ll call the police. Such lies, said researchers from Singapore’s Nangyang’s Technological University (NTU), have detrimental effects on children as they grow up.

These include disruptiveness, conduct problems, experiences of guilt and shame, as well as selfish and manipulative character. These findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Child.

To reach this conclusion, researchers assessed 379 Singaporean adults and asked them to complete a set of four online questionnaires. The first asked children to recall their parents’ lies related to eating, leaving or staying. For instance, “I’ll leave you here if you don’t come with me now.” In the second set of questions, participants were asked how often they lied to their parents as adults. The last two questionnaires assessed participants’ dependency on alcohol and substance abuse along with their tendency to behave selfishly and impulsively.


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On analyzing their responses, researchers found that, “parenting by lying could place children at a greater risk of developing problems, such as aggression, rule-breaking and intrusive behaviors,” according to the researchers, states the press release.

Some limitations of the study include relying on what young adults report about their retrospective experience of parents’ lying. “Future research can explore using multiple informants, such as parents, to report on the same variables,” suggested Peipei.

The research was done in collaboration with Canada’s University of Toronto, the United States’ University of California, San Diego, and China’s Zhejiang Normal University.

“When parents tell children that ‘honesty is the best policy,’ but display dishonesty by lying, such behavior can send conflicting messages to their children. Parents’ dishonesty may eventually erode trust and promote dishonesty in children,” said lead author and assistant professor Setoh Peipei from NTU Singapore’s School of Social Sciences in a press release. “Our research suggests that parenting by lying is a practice that has negative consequences for children when they grow up. Parents should be aware of these potential downstream implications and consider alternatives to lying, such as acknowledging children’s feelings, giving information so children know what to expect, offering choices and problem-solving together, to elicit good behavior from children,” Peipei added.

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Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.

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