Do you lie to your kids?

Working on means I get to be part of a lot of parental chat... which is mostly fascinating, warm, honest and affirming. Recently, there’s been a lot of rather jocular discussion on the topic of ‘lies we tell our kids’... and it’s been freaking me out a bit.

I get that everyone lies to their kids a little. About festive folk or creatures, for example. (I am being deliberately obtuse here, because I have been chastised by readers before for taking the shine of that particular piece of tinsel in this column.) Or deliberate and age-appropriate fudging around how babies are made or any nefarious activities you may have got up to in your youth, or even, erm, last weekend.

I have not gone that route myself, but I can absolutely see how that would depend on each individual family.

And obviously, of course, I have lied too. Unfortunately, I am very BAD liar, and as my children age – they have begun to make fun of me for it.

Just last week, for example, Joey came into the lounge bearing a tooth that had been in his slipper for almost a month.

“It would be really cool if the Tooth Fairy could come back from holiday any time now,” he said to me, with a pointed smirk and a raised eyebrow. “Because I know she’s recently been paid and might actually have some money in her little fairy wallet at the moment.”

I actually started out of the couch with guilt.

“I am so sorry honey, I am sure she’ll come tonight,” I replied, apologetically. “And if not, maybe you could let me know when you go brush your teeth in the morning?”

“Done,” said Joe. “But she should know that teeth that have been allowed to dry out thoroughly are a little more expensive.”

“Consider her appropriately informed,” I said.

We then grinned mischievously at each other, with the delight of a joke shared but unspoken.

It’s not those lies that get to me.

It’s the Strewvelpeter ones that are specifically designed to scare the bejesus out of children, so they’ll  do what you want them to do, like: “If you don’t clean your pee-pee properly, it’s going to fall off!” or that “when you chew on bubble gum you actually chew on your brain.” Or, even more inexplicably, “if you scratch in your navel, your butt will fall off!” (I am not making these up. All three are examples shared by readers on

Call me old fashioned, but I do believe that most kids start out nice, and don’t need to be civilised into being acceptable members of society. So why would we want to scare them this badly? Surely, the risk of emotionally scarring them is greater than whatever perceived damage can be done by, say, chewing gum?

So many go on and on about having teenagers who lie to them, and I am interested in this correlation. If you’ve always employed this kind of nasty ‘behave yourself!’ lie to discipline your kids, surely it’s no great leap when they get a little two-faced themselves? Isn’t that actually what those lies teach, rather than good manners or cleanliness? And honesty and respect are, by their very nature, a two-way street. Why play so fast and loose with your half of that family contract, when it’s so terribly, terribly important?

And that’s aside from the fact that most of these lies are seriously stupid. And children aren’t stupid, they are just small, with limited life experience. Once a child gets over the fear inherent in one of these mean yet meaningless whoppers...  it becomes quickly clear that one’s butt is not going to fall off, regardless of how much you might krap about in your bellybutton. And if I was that child, I’d feel very put out if my parents condescended to me to that degree.

I know I am jumping into judgemental territory here, which I tend to try and stay away from. But children don’t often have the platform to speak for themselves about this kind of thing, and I thought I’d have a bash at kid advocacy.

After all, these are the people who are going to try and sell Shady Pines as a fabulous place to live out our remaining years. And isn’t that a scary thought?

Do you lie to your kids? How much should they know?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24