We Teach, They Learn.
(Printed in the Towanda Daily Review on October 10, 1998. The title above was not the title used by the paper.)

In an Oct. 4 Review column, Jill Darling asked why dishonesty is so prevalent and so accepted in our society. She cited a 1994 survey of 3,795 youths where 66 percent admitted lying to their parents. Darling noted, "the shocking fact was that these teens were from evangelical church backgrounds and supposedly upheld a moral standard based on the Bible."

Why do some children lie? To attempt an answer, I must first review a few of the concepts that we present to our children as various levels of "the truth". The items are in the approximate order of delivery to the child:

  • Santa Claus -- a fat guy in a red suit who lives at the North Pole and knows everything about them. If they're good, they get gifts.
  • Easter Bunny -- a rabbit who delivers candy to celebrate a major religious holiday.
  • Tooth Fairy -- an entity that substitutes cash for teeth placed under pillows.
  • Angels - heavenly beings some of whom are charged with the protection of children (yet whose job performance makes them questionable candidates to guard grass.)
  • Satan - a former angel who somehow defies an omniscient omnipotent God.
  • God of the Bible - supposedly loving and caring yet, according to sacred documentation, created Adam and Eve knowing they would fail his test, then punished them and all of their descendants for failing the test. The Bible also lists numerous instances of atrocities attributed to God either directly or indirectly.
  • Heaven - mythical abode of God, where only true believers will reside after death. According to each of thousands of religions, only its followers can enter Heaven.
  • Hell - mythical abode of Satan where non-believers will be eternally tortured and tormented. According to each of thousands of religions, the followers of the other religions will be condemned to Hell.
  • Alcohol and Tobacco - drugs that are less dangerous than marijuana (even though they cause 50 times the annual deaths.)
  • Bill of Rights - meant for adults only, with major exceptions as dictated by the War on Drugs. Children in school have no rights.

Some of the above teachings are rationalized by parents as fun and fantasy -- almost as a parental requirement necessary for the emotional stability of the child. Others are deeply held beliefs passed to the child as a necessity for hopeful salvation. The rest are political and social dogma depending on the current majority in Congress.

Eventually, as the child matures and begins to question his or her accumulated knowledge, inconsistencies become apparent. Seeds of doubt are planted and are nurtured by curiosity, by outside contacts with new perspectives, by new evidence and facts, and by education. And soon, the realization that what they've been taught, though not necessarily lies, differs considerably from what they would have concluded had they been given the facts and allowed to decide for themselves. Although we don't directly encourage them to lie, we certainly do discourage them from seeking the truth by continually dictating our "truths" to them, rather than teaching them to discover truth for themselves.

So then, why do some children lie? Perhaps because it is easier. Perhaps because it requires less thought. To paraphrase a movie line, perhaps because their parents can't handle the truth.

Perhaps our children do learn from us.

John L. Ferri

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