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Teaching Kids Honesty

Posted: August 24, 2012

Is lying to your children okay and is teaching kids honesty pointless in today’s world? Or is it all the more important? 

By Maitreyee Chowdhury

Being a teacher at any point in one’s life brings in the habit of scrutinizing most stuff rather minutely. Thus when I look at my ten year old’s notebook one evening, I can’t help but remark that her teacher has overlooked a very apparent mistake in her work. My daughter tells me that she will point it out to her teacher the next day. The parent in me is alarmed; I tell her not to do so rather hastily, even as she gives me an odd look.

I am fighting a huge dilemma with myself. On the one hand is my own teaching to my daughter, to be always honest and yet experience has taught me from the various teachers I have met that not every teacher appreciates a mistake being pointed out, especially by a student;  invariably it is reflected in some way or the other on the child at some point during school. Most children ten years and below are still at a tender age where they have not learnt the art of fooling others yet and more importantly, not learnt the art of defending themselves from being hurt unjustly.

Is teaching kids honesty practical in today’s times?

My concern that my daughter might be in some way affected if the teacher expressed her displeasure at her made me keep quiet that day – something that I was not too proud of. A question that I found myself confronted with was, is lying to your children or even teaching your kids to tell white lies acceptable? And what about teaching honesty as a principle, to your children, what does one do in that matter?

…is it okay to tell white lies or even teach your children to tell white lies?

But like most things today the answer to all these questions is perhaps not an absolute Yes or No. While lying to children under certain circumstances may be inevitable, perhaps we should also try teaching kids the difference between white lies and lies. Raji Sumnath, a home maker and mother of two living in Muscat, Oman says, “I believe in being transparent with the children as far as possible. There are some occasions when they might hear me uttering a white lie. In this case, I always explain why I said that and ask them what they would have done if they were in my shoes. It’s certainly a tightrope act, but the rewards are big. I find that they trust my word because they know that I won’t lie to them.

Is child safety related to honesty issues?

Issues like trust and honesty go hand in hand, but can one ask one’s child to trust everyone? Sometimes, teaching kids to mistrust everyone unless proved right seems like a heinous crime, because we end up corrupting the innocent mind of the child. But parenting today comes with the additional cost of being aware that your tender child could be at risk at any point in her life because times are different now and perhaps safety lies in being prepared. Army man, Sanjeev Pandit stationed in Kolkata has this to say, “Ideally, a parent should preach and practice honesty. But if I tell my child to emulate Mahatma Gandhi and Raja Harishchandra, I doubt if he/she would survive in this world at all. Rather, I would teach my child how to survive in this world and move on. Yet, I would teach my child to be a good human being, caring and compassionate, never to back stab or cheat.” Sometimes lying to your children can save them from unnecessary hurt.

The difference between a white lie and blatantly lying to your children

Besides life, parents and teachers perhaps form some of the biggest educators in every child’s life. Which is why, the balance between how much honesty is necessary and how much children and lies can be compatible, is a decision that every parent needs to take at a very early stage. While teaching kids honesty is a necessity for their future growth as good individuals, it is also perhaps equally necessary to make them aware of the white lies and why sometimes lying is not altogether wrong, given certain circumstances. Of course much of it depends on how you tell it to your child, how receptive he or she is to what you say and how well you implement it yourself.

Parents should remember that kids are smart and perceptive enough to know when parents lie.

Parents should remember that kids are smart and perceptive enough to know when parents lie. So don’t make it a habit, but when necessary, explain the situation to them. Arunima Das, a teacher with Zee Learn in Kolkata, is a parent herself. Her take on this is, “I am a transparent and authentic parent by choice. It is important to me to be this way because it lets the child know where they stand with me, it builds a relationship of complete trust and one can’t be authentic without compassion which opens up your heart. I also choose to be this way because it is an example that I would want my child to follow. I want her to see that her mother not only preaches values but she lives by the same.”

Rearing an honest and happy child is perhaps a blessing and the wish of every parent. But how you go about it in today’s context is indeed an intense juggling act.

*Photo credit: Keoni Cabral (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

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  1. [InsertHandleHere] (actually taposhree's daughter) -

    The way things are now, even if you go out of your way to teach your child honesty and integrity, they are going to learn how to lie. Sooner or later, they’ll land up in a situation where the truth is either going to hurt them or someone else that they care about. It might be something silly like knowing that your best friend is bunking school for a trip instead of actually being sick. It might be something much bigger, like knowing that they smoke or drink illegally. Nobody is going to go around answering “Yes, of course she does!” when posed with a question about these topics.

    • [InsertHandleHere] (actually taposhree's daughter) -

      …continued from above
      As a student, I would go ahead and take the cut to my marks. I don’t think that one or two extra points on my test are equal to the goodwill I can get out of being honest. Honesty can be practical from a networking point of view. I took a retest some years back, where I got lower marks than the class average, because I thought it would be unfair if I had those average marks entered into my report (having not actually worked for them). I did worse in the report card, but I built up an important rapport with my teacher that helped me a great deal later on in my school life. More importantly, academic honesty becomes significantly more meaningful when you realise that your diploma, your chances of getting into a good university, and your future, can be wrecked just by not being absolutely ethical about your work.

    • [InsertHandleHere] (actually taposhree's daughter) -

      …continued from the continued above (i.e continuedception)
      On the other hand, in any social situation, honesty is *not* the best policy. If I verbalised every single thought that popped into my head, I’d be better off as a hermit. And if any parent tries to instill honesty into their child while lying about whether they liked that lovely curry that tastes like dishwater, or that fabulous dress that may or may not have been scavenged, it’s hypocritical. Honestly, I think it’s better to explain to people that yes, there are times when you have to lie, whether you like it or not, and times when lying can and will screw you over badly.

  2. Nicely written article. Would like to add that the definition of honesty is evolving as the human kind. Not the robust definition but the delicate ones, for example downloading a song or a book from internet (free ones) comes under that grey area, where it is difficult to teach kids what is right, as in their tender age it is difficult for them to understand the difference.

  3. Soumitra Dasgupta -

    Excellent article Maitreyee. The fact that like everything else in life (even water) moderation is very important. The article addresses this bit effectively. The dilemma of when to “lie” and when not too is taken up rather well and there’s a unamious agreement in readers and respondents too. Nice way to start a Sunday.

    Psst on a lighter vein, can I login as “Actually Taposhree’s friend.” Its not a white lie, do check with her. Ho ho

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