As parents, we've seen it all. Crayon scribbles on the living room wall. Muddy footprints on the deep pile carpet. Chocolaty smudges on the furniture proving that, despite claims to the contrary, MnM's do indeed melt in your hand. Finding the perpetrator of such kiddie-crimes is usually pretty easy, especially if you only have one kid. But I've always been somewhat amazed that, even in the face of irrefutable evidence, 98.3% of all children between the ages of two and eighteen will always give the lie a chance.
Okay, I'll admit it, I had to chuckle. But then, putting on the "stern dad" face, I asked, "Ryan, how did your arms get like that?"
He looked me straight in the eye and said, "I didn't do it."
I'll say it again, the boy was TWO YEARS OLD. So I have to wonder, at what age do children first realize that lying is an option? Is it a survival instinct that they're born with? Fight, flight, or lie your ass off? Certainly they don't learn it from their parents. We'd never lie to our children about anything, right?
Of course we would. And the exact degree of bullshit varies depending upon the age of the child. For example, up until the age of five, we lie to them like this:
"I know he might look a little different, but trust me, that's the same goldfish."
There's a pretty funny footnote to this story. Ryan never caught on. Not too long ago, when he was about sixteen, he was reminiscing about the pets we've had. "Hey, Dad, remember Mr. Krinklebine? Man, that fish lived a long time, what, about eight years?"
I laughed my ass off.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"Um, I hate to break this to you now, but there were about a dozen of him."
"What? You lied to me about my goldfish?"
As the kids get a bit older, we have to step up our game. They're a little tougher to fool, but it can still be done. Let's take a look at one of the classics:
"Being a kid was a lot harder when I was your age."
That's all hypothetical, of course.
Once our kids hit the teenage years, successfully putting one over on them becomes darn near impossible. Not only do our kids become insufferable lunatics, they also develop a healthy skepticism of our every word. So their questions demand a much more sophisticated level of deception.
"Of course not! I never touched alcohol until I was 21."
"Of course not! I never had sex with anyone until I was married to your mother/father."
"Of course not! I have never tried any kind of drugs."
Answering our teenagers' questions about the things we did at their age always presents a dilemma. On the one hand we want to be honest, in the hopes that they'll be honest in return, allowing us to have open dialogue about the dangers of alcohol, drug use, and sexual promiscuity. But what if they use our history against us? Maybe they'll think, "Well, my dad shot heroin, guzzled tequila and nailed an endless parade of disease-ridden hookers and he didn't turn out that screwed up," and see it as permission to experiment with those very things. "You did those things, so why can't I?" they'll say, at least, that's what we're afraid of.
So we lie. And try to fool our teenagers into thinking that we were tee-totaling virgins until the age of thirty.
Look, I'm not condoning dishonesty. Sure, we have to take a few strategic liberties from time to time, but for the most part, as the cliche says, "honesty is the best policy." We're better off teaching our kids to take responsibility for their actions and to be forthright when explaining their misbehavior.
I remember one time when I was about twelve, my brothers and I were goofing around in the backyard. We set up a few tin cans on the porch, and tried to knock them over with rocks. On my second or third shot, I winged one a bit too hard and shattered the kitchen window. Naturally, I pointed the finger of guilt at my brother Eric, who adamantly declared his innocence. In an effort to get to the truth, my dad put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, "If you just tell me the truth, you won't get in trouble."
Which was, of course, a lie.