Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stop lying to children

A stork, not carrying a baby. Photo Credit: Apurbasen via Wikipedia

Over at Practical Ethics, Hannah Maslen discusses some interesting (though seriously limited) research indicating that children who are lied to by an experimenter under particular conditions are more likely to lie to the experimenter. She suggests that since we don't want children lying, we should avoid lying to them when we can.

But this is just sound childcare advice, because these are situations in which the experimenter is quickly found out to be lying. And any decent educator would tell you not to lie to a child if the child will soon discover the truth (except, perhaps, in dire circumstances). The child will lose trust in the liar, diminishing the effectiveness of any childcare or education.

The interesting ethical question is, when is it bad to lie to children, regardless of whether or not it achieves one's broader goals?

Maslen writes: 
Most people would agree that telling young children that babies get delivered by storks is not the sort of lie we should be concerned about. 
I think we should be concerned about these kinds of lies. Obviously it's not a tragedy if a parent tells this lie, but I think there are serious reasons to avoid doing it. It plays on a child's trust and gullibility to avoid a parent's discomfort. It contains confusing misinformation that, at some point, the child will have to confront was a lie. And it (perhaps) promotes a propensity to lie. All of these, I think, would be reasons not to lie to an adult, and they apply equally against lying to children.

If it's inappropriate at a given age to discuss the mechanics of human reproduction, why shouldn't we just say to a child "That's something we'll talk about when you're older"?

More on this to come.

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