Most kids lie. They lie to avoid punishment. They lie to be polite. They lie to preserve their privacy. I certainly lied all the time as a kid, particularly as a teenager.
But so many questions linger. Do people generally lie more as kids or as adults? If people lie more often as kids, as I suspect they do, why? What follows are three possible explanations.
1. Social Ineptness: Honesty often requires a great deal of skill. Conveying gratitude for an unwanted gift without being dishonest requires careful crafting of words. Fending off nosy inquiries requires experience in the sorts of answers likely to deflect attention. Children are in the process of developing such moral skills, so those skills may be only rudimentary and generally inadequate for the harder cases. As a result, dishonesty might more often seem like the only option to kids. Adults generally have more experience, more practice, and more skill in the arts of communication, so consequently they generally experience less pressure to lie.
2. Empirical Testing: Children might learn about the costs of dishonesty and benefits of honesty from their parents and teachers, but such consequences might not seem entirely real until seen or experienced firsthand. So some portion of lying in children might be attributed to empirical testing of this moral choice. And some portion of lying in children might be attributed to a lack of direct experience with the negative consequences of dishonesty. (These consequences will include those imposed by the liar’s own consciousness, by other people, and by reality.) It’s worth nothing that kids can manage to avoid some of the stupider moral principles that adults attempt to foist upon them by taking such an empirical approach to ethics.
3. Perverse Incentives: Children face punishment for their undesirable behavior in a way that adults do not. A child who lies to a parent might be grounded for a month, whereas an adult who lies to a parent cannot be forced to experience such punishment. Punishment is simply not a consequence of dishonesty for adults, unless that dishonesty is part of otherwise criminal activity. Because kids usually wish to do stuff that they parents forbid (like drinking at parties), the threat of punishment if the truth is revealed certainly encourages lying. This is not to say that adults do not face negative consequences if caught doing something wrong, but rather that kids face the additional negative consequence of parental punishment if caught.
What other aspects of a child’s life contribute to dishonesty?