Children lied to by parents tell more lies as adults, new study

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

If you regularly make up lies such as, "I didn't bring any money," to avoid a purchase requested by your child, you might want to rethink. 

While these white lies ensure your child complies in the short-term, apparently they could also be having a negative impact on their behaviour in adulthood.

A new study has revealed that adults who were consistently lied to as children, go on to tell more lies when they're grown up, compared to those who weren't told fibs.

In the first of four online questionnaires, researchers at Nanyang Technological University, asked 379 Singaporean young adults "whether their parents lied to them when they were children, how much they lie to their parents now, and how well they adjust to adulthood challenges."

Those who said they had been lied to as children were more likely to admit that they regularly lied to their parents and also reported having difficulties with, "... disruptiveness, conduct problems, experience of guilt and shame, as well as selfish and manipulative character."

The second questionnaire asked participants to admit how often they lied to their parents now that they were young adults. The specifics centred on 'prosocial' lies - those that benefit others - and lies that were exaggerations of things that had happened.

The final two questionnaires extracted information about, "... self-reported psychosocial maladjustment and tendency to behave selfishly and impulsively."

Lead author Assistant Professor Setoh Peipei from NTU's School of Social Sciences said, "Parenting by lying can seem to save time especially when the real reasons behind why parents want children to do something is complicated to explain. When parents tell children that 'honesty is the best policy', but display dishonesty by lying, such behaviour can send conflicting messages to their children. Parents' dishonesty may eventually erode trust and promote dishonesty in children."

He explained, "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 behaviour from children."


We're not sure what this means for the big man with the white beard, however the research focused on lying from parents around "... eating; leaving and/or staying; children's misbehaviour; and spending money."

The nature of the lies would need further investigation, as lies in themselves could not be said to cause maladjustment.

Assistant Professot Setoh said, "It is possible that a lie to assert the parents' power, such as saying 'If you don't behave, we will throw you into the ocean to feed the fish', may be more related to children's adjustment difficulties as adults, compared to lies that target children's compliance, e.g. 'there is no more candy in the house'."

"Authority assertion over children is a form of psychological intrusiveness, which may undermine children's sense of autonomy and convey rejection, ultimately undermining children's emotional well-being. Future research should examine the nature of the lies and goals of the parents so that researchers can suggest what kind of lies to avoid, and what kind of truth-telling parents should engage in."

The findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology and were conducted in collaboration with Canada's University of Toronto, the United States' University of California, San Diego, and China's Zhejiang Normal University.